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Global Jul 03, 2012

Spain sweeps aside Italy to win European title, booking place among best teams in history

By Charles Boehm

The Spanish men’s national team destroyed Italy 4-0 in the final of the 2012 UEFA European Championships in Kiev, Ukraine on Sunday evening, treating the planet to a masterful display of artistry and technique while underlining half a decade of dominance on the international soccer landscape.

Exhibiting their relentless, high-pressure defense and vaunted “tiki-taka” passing style on the game’s biggest stages, Spain have now sandwiched their 2012 FIFA World Cup victory between two European titles, drawing comparisons to legendary champions of the past like Brazil’s 1970 World Cup squad and the Hungarian teams of the 1950s.  They are the first team in history to win back-to-back Euro championships and after conceding just one goal in their six Euro 2012 matches, they have given up just six goals in the entirety of those three tournaments.

In fact, Spain’s skillful passing and dominance of ball possession has proven so unstoppable as to be labeled “boring” by some observers in this year’s edition of the Euros, as intimidated opponents have adopted ultra-defensive postures in the hopes of containing “La Furia Roja.” But Sunday’s title tilt at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium showcased everything that has made the Spaniards the new gold standard for others to emulate, as they wore down the Italians with imagination, movement and sharp attacking from the opening whistle until the final minutes.

Manchester City star David Silva opened the scoring barely a quarter of an hour into the match with a snap header beautifully created by teammate Cesc Fabregas’ nimble run to the endline, and Jordi Alba doubled the lead on a lung-busting run and finish from his left back spot which was made possible by a perfectly weighted pass from playmaker Xavi Hernandez. Creative midfielder Andres Iniesta was a dominant presence for Spain and was later named man of the match, as well as top player of the tournament.

Italy rallied after halftime and forced Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas to make some timely saves, but were left reeling when their third and final substitute, Thiago Motta, was stretchered off with a hamstring injury mere minutes after entering. That forced them to finish the game with 10 men and their impressive Euro campaign was ruthlessly brought to a close by Spain subs Fernando Torres and Juan Mata, who chipped in late goals to put a final exclamation point on a thrilling victory.

[ +See ESPN’s match highlights here ]

“This is a great era for Spanish football,” said manager Vicente del Bosque afterward. “After [the EURO 2008 final in] Vienna, Luis Aragonés [his predecessor] showed us the way, the direction to go. But there are challenges ahead with World Cup qualification and then the Confederations Cup where, representing Europe, we want to do well.

“We had an extraordinary match but don’t underestimate Italy – they just had no luck. Everything went our way tonight. Italy had one fewer player, one less day of rest and they tried throughout but couldn’t get into the game. We played our own game and were faithful to what we’ve done over the years.”

Spain have lost just one match in the knockout phase of major tournaments since their triumphant Euro 2008 run – that shocking 2009 Confederations Cup loss to the United States – and with a new crop of talent rising to challenge their current stars for playing time, their dynasty may well continue for years to come.

Here’s a few noteworthy selections from the many articles written about Spain’s success:

Sid Lowe, The Guardian – Euro 2012: Spain seal their place in history with Italy’s destruction

Jeff Carlisle, ESPN – Why this Spain side is all-time best

Rob Smyth, The Guardian – Where does this Spain side stand in the pantheon?

The Score blog (Canada) – You can wait all you like, but there will never be another Iniesta

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