So there we have it, this incredible Spanish side have added history to the plaudits and trophies by becoming the first European team to win three consecutive major tournaments, notching up the biggest final victory in the process.
Fernando Torres added is own piece of history by becoming the first player to score a goal in two European Championship finals grabbing a goal minutes after he came on as substitute, securing the golden boot in the process.
Three weeks ago when the teams first met in their opening group game Italy looked to have the measure of the reigning champions but it was not to be for the Azzurri in the final. They looked tired; they lost Giorgio Chiellini to injury in the 21st minute and then Thiaggo Motta to a snapped hamstring just four minutes after he came on as their final substitute. It meant that, already 2-0 down, they had to play the final half an hour with just ten men. If it wasn’t over as a contest at that point, it was then.
This shouldn’t detract from the quality of Spain’s first-half performance. Maybe the La Furia Roja have been on Twitter and seen all the tweets claiming tiki-taka is boring or read all the newspaper arguments suggesting this tournament heralds the end of that philosophy. It’s not the death of tiki-taka of course, although Spain have been painful to watch at times over the last 21 days (don’t forget their first shot on target against Portugal came on the hour mark). However in this final they came up with the perfect response with an exhilarating display which had the game all but tied up before the break.
David Silva was the first to trouble the scorers after 14 minutes heading home after a great pull back from Cesc Fabregas. It was nothing more than they deserved. People talk about Spain’s attacking ability but tend to overlook that it’s based on a philosophy of pushing and pressing high. As in the teams’ group game Spain effectively closed down Italy’s key man Andrea Pirlo.
However the Azzurri are not a one-man side. They still had 52% of the possession in that opening 45 minutes, their famous strength of character coming to the fore. Federico Balzaretti, unlucky not to make the starting line-up, replaced the injured Chiellini gave Italy some attacking verve on the left wing and they took the game to the Spaniards. It was as they broke forward that they were sucker punched by a superb counter attack which ended with Xavi rolling a superbly weighted ball into the path of Jordi Alba.
The Italians wouldn’t be bowed and the opening 15 minutes of the second half continued where the first had ended – with both teams looking for goals. However Italy then received a knock-out blow, losing Motta and ending any chance of their fight back. After that it was an exhibition game. Torres added the third with six minutes to go. If it had been a boxing bout it would have been stopped but Italy had to endure another couple of rounds and Juan Mata, another substitute and another Chelsea man had time to add the fourth, two minutes later.
Would the score line have been different if Italy had had a full compliment of players on the pitch for the whole match? Quite probably, but the result would have remained the same. The history books will remember this Spanish side as a glorious one and rightly so.
Italy (4-4-2): Buffon; Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini (Balzaretti 21); Pirlo, Marchisio, Montolivo (Motta 57), De Rossi; Balotelli, Cassano (Di Natale 45).
Did you know…This was the fourth time in seven European Championships that the finalists also met in the group stage. On each occasion it was also the finalists’ opening group match.
Check out the Euro 2012 odds and get some tips on the European Championships betting.