It is hard to believe there was a period of time before the 2008 Euro Tournament that Spain was defined by choking in big games. Going in, they hadn’t won a major tournament in 44 years, despite having world class players and club teams. On Sunday, Spain continued a run of winning three major tournaments in a row as they won UEFA Euro 2012 defeating Italy 4-0.
Spain’s Euro 2012 was characterized by lethargy and defensive minded play. They snapped out of it during the final minutes of semi match against Portugal and carried it over into the finals. While Italy beat “La Roja” at their own possession game during the first half, Spain strung together long stretches of their “Tiki Taka” short pass game to get two scores.
Playing without a true striker, Spain hid all of their cards. Italy at times didn’t know which breaking player to mark. The first goal came after Fabregas took Italy’s Chiellini down to the endline. A chip back to Silvia’s head surged past the goalkeeper, Buffon. The second goal came after Alba made a deep run from the midfield. None of the Italian’s usually staunch defenders altered his path as he took a pass from Xavi Hernandez and easily took advantage of the one-on-one situation right before half.
Italy had several opportunities of their own. Spain’s keeper, Iker Casillas, came up big on several shots. He punched away several close crossing chances and at point blank. Italy’s one big hope was their budding star, Mario Balotelli, to turn into Super Mario. However, the promise of early tournament play and hype never came into fruitition. Except for a few flops and some mis-guided long range bombs, he was a non-factor. Whenever, he touched the ball he was quickly surrounded by Spain’s defense.
In the second half, Italy’s tough challenge of being down by two goals became nearly impossible when Thiago Motta went down in the 64th minute after just coming in a few minutes earlier. With no more substitutes available to coach Prandelli, the Italians were forced to play with only 10 men. Facing a depleted foe, Spain was able to keep up the up-tempo possession game and drive in two more goals. Italy held them off decently until Torres and Mata scored in the 84th and 88th minute respectfully.
Spain has now won the past two Euro tournaments and the World Cup. Their only tournament losses came at the hands of Switzerland in group stage in the World Cup and the United States in the Confederations Cup. For their part, Italy should go home proud. They exceeded everyone's expectations with their play in this year's tournament. After the disastrous World Cup implosion and the on-going match fixing scandal, a second place finish in the 2012 Euro is nothing short of impressive.
That being said, the world is currently looking to Spain when mentioning the world's best football, and deservedly so.
Photo Credit: AP