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Euro 2012: Spanish Dominance
While Spain had looked somewhat pedestrian throughout much of Euro 2012 they found that next gear just in time for Sunday's final, destroying Italy 4-0 and becoming the first nation to win back-to-back European crowns. With the victory, the Spanish take their rightful place among the greatest teams of all time.
Edmonton - July 2, 2012 - While Spain found their way into a third straight major final, meeting Italy for the 2012 European Championship, most felt they had been nothing more than ordinary during Euro 2012. They had yet to find that next gear. Unfortunately for the Italians, the Spaniards found that next level just in time for Sunday's final, destroying the Azzurri 4-0 and becoming the first nation to win back-to-back European crowns. The victory places this Spanish alongside the greatest teams of all-time. In fact, having won the 2008 European title, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, it likely puts them at the top of that list.
Spain looked to be all business from the opening whistle, hounding the ball and the Italians all over the pitch. They knew what was at stake and unlike their opening match of the tournament against the Azzurri, they were dictating terms. Italy had a decent opening five minutes but soon after, the Spaniards started to come in waves and there was nothing the Italians could do to slow them down.
The defending champions would open the scoring just fourteen minutes in, after a spectacularly played ball by Andres Iniesta found its way through the Italian defence and into the path of a hard charging Cesc Fabregas. The Barcelona man beat defender Giorgio Chiellini to the end line, before playing back a lovely chip into the box, that was headed home by an unmarked David Silva. At first glance it looked as though it was poor marking all around from the Italians but in reality, it was Spain's movement on and off the ball that did them in...despite their best efforts.
Chiellini would last another five minutes, before being forced off due to injury, The Azzurri back had hurt his knee earlier in the tournament but did manage to play against Germany in the semi-final. That was against the Germans. On this night, against a team with Spain's pace and passing ability, his inability to play at 100% could be a disastrous combination. On came Federico Balzaretti but it had little effect.
They would make it a two goal bulge before the end of the half, courtesy of some more Spanish magic poor defending from the Italians. Full-back Jordi Alba played out a give and go with Xavi just inside the Spanish half, allowing the midfielder time and space to move up field. The Barcelona magician returned the favour, sending an absurd ball between two Italian defenders, that was met perfectly by a sprinting Alba. The former Valencia back, that just days earlier signed to join Barcelona, finished the gorgeous play with a striker's precision, beating Gianluigi Buffon with a beautifully placed shot.
While the goal was an absolute joy to watch unfold, the fact Alba was allowed to dash sixty yards up field and left unmarked, was unforgivable from the Azzurri. Right back Ignazio Abate decided to jog his way back to position when Xavi first received the ball and then simply watched Alba blow by him and forge forward into the attacking third. Not good enough against a regular opponent, never mind against Spain.
That made it 2-0 heading into halftime and left Italy little hope of coming back. Spain had not only taken a two goal lead but had completely neutralized both Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli. By taking time and space away from Pirlo, the Spaniards left the Italian maestro little opportunity to find Balotelli or anyone else for that matter. Italy actually played Spain to a near dead heat in possession through the opening forty-five but they could not amount any sort of attack on Iker Casillas.
Cesare Prandelli decided to bring on striker Antonio Di Natale in place of Antonio Cassano to start the second half and while the move produced a couple of early chances for Di Natale, his finish was poor. They had their chance to get back into the match but couldn't capitalize.
To make matters worse, Thiago Motta was brought on just before the hour mark for Riccardo Montolivo but didn't last five minutes, before hitting the turf clutching his hamstring. Motta was forced to leave the game on a stretcher, leaving the Azzurri with just ten men on the pitch and a two goal deficit against the best team in the world. Can you say game over?
Spain added insult to injury, as Fernando Torres and Juan Mata scored late goals on what was a dead tired and deflated Italian side, to make it a 4-0 final. Italy may have surprised some by getting out of the group stages but shocked the soccer world in easily dismissing Germany in their semi-final on Thursday. That being said, they are nowhere near as good a side as Spain, when they are in top form. The Italians have no reason to hang their heads in defeat. There is no shame in losing to one of the best sides the game of soccer has even seen.