Spain 4 Italy 0: Lessons learned as La Roja conquer Europe again
What did we learn as Spain successfully defended their crown with an emphatic 4-0 victory over Italy in the Euro 2012 final?
Spain make early pressure tell
Italy made a bright start and enjoyed the lion’s share of possession – but their spell of dominance lasted around three minutes. Unsurprisingly, Spain gained control of the final and their five-man midfield, aided by “false striker” Cesc Fábregas, soon had Italy’s defence in disarray. The holders have had their style of football labelled “boring” over the course of the tournament but their sharp passing and cunning movement helped manufacture a series of early chances. Sergio Ramos threatened from successive set-pieces before Fábregas’ deft pass found his Barcelona team-mate Xavi, who narrowly fired over. It was a warning shot for Gianluigi Buffon and his ragged Azzurri defence. In the 11th minute, Italy’s rearguard finally folded amid pure brilliance from Spain – Andres Iniesta’s pass released Fábregas, who showed an electric burst of pace to muscle past Giorgio Chiellini, before the former Arsenal captain’s cross was guided past Gianluigi Buffon and into the net by David Silva. It was Spain at their creative best, and anything but boring football from the defending champions. With Italy managing to find a foothold in the match, a swift Spanish counter-attack saw Jordi Alba exchange passes with Iniesta, and Barcelona’s newly-acquired left-back tucked his finish past Buffon to make it 2-0. Prandelli’s decision to make early changes in the second half backfired as Thiago Motta suffered a demobilising hamstring injury, and with Italy reduced to 10 men, substitutes Fernando Torres and Juan Mata scored late goals to add further gloss to their win.
Pirlo neutralised by Spain’s midfield
Andrea Pirlo, a veteran of Italy’s triumph in the World Cup final against France in 2006, was named man of the match for three of the five games en route to the Kiev showpiece. The 33-year-old’s move from AC Milan to Juventus has thwarted the midfielder’s decline and he took his club form into the European championship – his free-kick helped the Azzurri to a 1-1 draw with Croatia. Pirlo starred in Italy’s victory over England, making 117 successful passes and emulating Antonin Panenka’s chipped spot-kick at Euro ’76, switching the momentum of the penalty shootout. But while Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker afforded Pirlo too much time to orchestrate Italy’s rhythm, Spain swarmed the midfielder which prompted Italy’s fulcrum to come to shuddering halt. When Pirlo gathered possession, he was confronted by a cluster of opponents, and the ageing midfielder’s impact was neutralised – he managed to complete a mere 48 passes in contrast to Xavi’s 80 and Xabi Alonso’s 78, while Leonardo Bonucci eclipsed Pirlo’s total, making 55.
Are Spain the greatest team of all time?
Spain’s triumph earned them a further slice of history as they became the first country to defend their crown and the first to win three successive major tournaments, while also claiming the biggest winning margin in a European championship final. As if Vicente Del Bosque’s side were not already considered greats, their latest title edged them closer to claiming the ultimate crown of being crowned the greatest international team of all time. The French side that won the World Cup in 1998, followed by Euro 2000, and included the mercurial Zinedine Zidane, Marcel Desailly, Laurent Blanc and Didier Deschamps will certainly argue to the contrary – Les Bleus beat Brazil and Italy in their respective finals. There exquisite attacking style started to blossom in 1998 before truly bursting into full bloom at the European championship held in Belgium and the Netherlands. Looking further back, Brazil’s World Cup winning-side of 1970 won every game en route to their final triumph, playing an exciting brand of attacking football, with Pele headlining this irresistible Brazilian side. “Our team was the best. Those who saw it, saw it. Those who didn’t will never see it again,” said midfielder Gerson. But perhaps Spain have emulated that side. Barcelona’s duo Xavi and Iniesta have exlempery vision and distribution, and their tika-taka brand has conquered the world’s best on three occasions. Spain are arguably already the best football has seen for their sustained success – and based on the average age of their starting line-up on Sunday – 28 – there is still room for this current crop of players to extend their spell of dominance at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil – and perhaps further.
Spain banish Italian demons – unlike Germany
Much was made of Germany’s poor record against Italy – the Azzurri had never lost to Germany (or West Germany) in a competitive fixture and had twice beaten them in semi-finals. That run was continued thanks to Mario Balotelli’s fantastic brace last week. Spain’s record against the four-time world champions was equally as unimpressive – Italy inflicted the joint heaviest defeat in Spain’s history during the 1928 Olympics, beating them 7-1 in an Amsterdam replay following a 1-1 quarter-final draw. In the 11 competitive fixtures between the two sides, Spain managed a sole outright victory at the 1920 Olympic Games, with their quarter-final victory on penalties at Euro 2008 classified as a draw by Uefa. But Del Bosque’s men emphatically exorcised any Italian demons with an emphatic display on Sunday. The difference between Germany and Spain, and their approach to taking on Italy, was experience. Iker Casillas, Iniesta, Xavi, Torres, Fàbregas, Alonso, Sergio Ramos and Silva all featured in the 2008 showpiece – before the game, no player has appeared in two European championship finals. It showed in their final group stage game against Croatia and in their penalty shootout victory over Portugal. In the final, Spain unleashed their best performance at the tournament as their big players produced an uncompromising display.