Euro Cup final: Records tumble in Spain’s stunning triumph
Kiev: Spain have been crowned Euro 2012 champions after a record-breaking 4-0 victory over Italy in the final at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev on Sunday.
La Roja`s victory, added to their Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 successes, makes them the first team in history to win three major international tournaments in a row.
David Silva opened the scoring after a quarter of an hour with a header, before a lung-busting run and finish from Jordi Alba put Spain two goals ahead by half-time.
The second half saw chances for both teams, but the match changed on the hour mark after Thiago Motta was strechered off moments after coming off the bench, reducing Italy to 10 men with all three substitutions already used.
There was no way back for the Azzurri after that, as Spain put on a passing exhibition to drain the life out of Cesare Prandelli`s men. With time running out, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata added clinchers in the 84th and 88th minutes respectively to capture the European Championship for La Roja for the third time.
The milestones continued to fall for Spain, with 13 members of their squad becoming the first players to play in and win two Euro finals, while Torres` late goal gave him the Golden Boot.
Despite pre-match comments hinting that he would play with a recognised striker, Vicente Del Bosque opted for Cesc Fabregas to lead the line ahead of Alvaro Negredo and Torres in a ‘false nine’ role.
Prandelli also made one change to his starting XI, with Ignazio Abate recovering in time from a hamstring injury to replace Federico Balzaretti at right-back, while Mario Balotelli continued in attack after his match-winning double against Germany.
Spain wasted little time in dictating the tempo, with Italy forced to defend deep against the wave of red shirts and relieve pressure on the counter whenever they could.
Sergio Ramos sent an early header off-target, but the first real chance fell to Xavi, whose one-two with Fabregas ended with a crashing drive that flashed inches over the bar after 10 minutes.
It was an opportunity to mark the initial dominance of Spain, and four minutes later, La Roja would find themselves ahead.
Andres Iniesta was the architect, threading in Fabregas on the overlap down the right, who clipped towards Silva at the near post to glance a header past Gianluigi Buffon.
Italy attempted to hit back straight away, with a 20-yard free-kick from Andrea Pirlo deflected about a foot too high. From the resulting corner, the Juventus midfielder forced Iker Casillas to stretch to tip away his dangerous delivery.
The Azzurri were handed a blow after 21 minutes, as defender Giorgio Chiellini limped off after picking up an injury, with Balzaretti coming on. Moments later, Gerard Pique became the first player booked for a crunching challenge that sent Antonio Cassano flying.
Italy, to their credit, did not allow Spain to walk all over them after the opener, and were able to hold a respectable amount of possession in the face of La Roja’s famed tiki-taka football.
Balzaretti was active since his introduction, with a devilish cross tipped by Casillas away from the head of Balotelli, before finding space to squeeze in a shot from the left side that was easily saved.
Just past the half hour mark, the Spanish captain was called into action again to parry Cassano’s strong drive from 20 yards out.
The Azzurri kept up the pressure in midfield, as viewers were treated to the somewhat unfamiliar sight of Spain playing through the counterattack.
However, La Roja proved that they were just as effective on the breakaway, as they doubled their advantage four minutes before half-time through a move started, and finished by Alba.
The left-back played the ball to Xavi near the halfway line, surged behind the Italian defence, and latched onto the Barcelona midfielder’s pinpoint return pass to slot his side further ahead.
Spain were jubilant, but had Casillas to thank once again for punching clear Riccardo Montolivo’s attempt from outside the area to maintain their two-goal lead at the interval.
Prandelli attempted to respond, hauling off Cassano for Antonio Di Natale and the Udinese striker nearly struck gold with his first touch, heading Abate’s inviting cross narrowly over the bar.
That sparked a period of intense Spain pressure, where Fabregas fired just off target before last-ditch blocks from Buffon and Abate denied Iniesta from close range.
Italy were then lucky to escape a penalty after an apparent handball by Leonardo Bonucci in the box, but referee Pedro Proenca waved play on, to the incredulity of many members of the Spanish team.
Di Natale managed to find space once more in the area, but Casillas was equal to his well-struck attempt before smothering the forward’s chance from the rebound.
Shortly after, Silva and Montolivo made way for Pedro and Motta as both coaches looked to shuffle their packs.
But Motta, barely three minutes after making his appearance, was taken off on a stretcher clutching his hamstring, leaving Italy a man short as Prandelli had already used all three of his substitutions.
The Azzurri were floored by the setback as Spain, a man up and two goals ahead, began to kill the game off with large periods of leisurely possession in the opposition half.
With 16 minutes left, Fabregas was called to the bench as Torres, scorer of the only goal in the 2008 final, came on for the final stretch.
At that point, the only question remaining was whether Spain would score again, and they nearly achieved that feat with a bad miss from Pedro, which was tempered somewhat by the offside flag.
However, Torres would make no such mistake with six minutes remaining, finishing another perfect through pass from Xavi to confirm his status as the first player to score twice in a Euro final, while Xavi became the first to register two final assists.
Mata replaced Iniesta late on as the Spanish parties began in the stands, and they were kicked up a notch two minutes from the end as he stroked home Torres` cutback to make it 4-0.