Spain beat Italy 4-0 last night to become the first nation to retain soccer’s European Championship title and the only one from the continent to win three straight major competitions.
Italy was forced to play the final 30 minutes a man down after running out of substitutes when Thiago Motta left injured. The Azzurri were no match for a Spanish team that recorded the biggest victory margin in a European Championship or World Cup final, and Spain captain Iker Casillas was able to hold aloft the Henri Delaunay Trophy for the second time in his career.
“To win three titles is almost impossible,” said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who has now won European, world and Champions League titles. “Congratulations to the players. I didn’t really want to be the coach who wins but the coach who educates, I want to keep preparing them for the future.”
Spain also extended its record of not conceding a goal in knockout matches since a 3-1 defeat to France in the last 16 of the 2006 World Cup. That was also the last time it was eliminated from a major tournament.
“They really have made history tonight, deservedly so,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. “They have been playing tremendous football for years. Once Thiago Motta went off injured we didn’t have anything left in the tank. When you’re down to 10 men you can’t carry on, the game’s over”
For all its dominance of the ball Spain had struggled to score goals in knockout matches. Only once since a 3-0 victory over Russia at Euro 2008 had Las Rojas scored more than one goal in major elimination matches. That 2-0 win over France in this year’s competition was followed by a penalty-shootout victory over Portugal in the semifinal after that match finished 0-0.
Prandelli’s decision to ask his team to press higher upfield than Spain’s opponents usually do made for an open contest. Any hope of an Italy comeback was ended when Motta was stretchered off in the 61st minute.
The opening goal came following a sweeping move involving 13 passes in the 14th minute. It ended when Iniesta played in Cesc Fabregas, who swept behind Giorgio Chiellini and crossed for Silva to head in. Fabregas was chosen ahead of Alvaro Negredo as Del Bosque named a team without a recognized striker.
Chiellini almost pulled Italy level three minutes later but was unable to keep his header on target. That was the Juventus defender’s last contribution before he hobbled off to become the first Italian casualty of the night.
Italy pressed without creating clear openings, and Spain continued to carry a greater threat when it countered.
The second goal arrived four minutes before halftime. Xavi exchanged passes with Alba who surged beyond a clutch of defenders to collect the ball and slot past Gianluigi Buffon.
Prandelli replaced Antonio Cassano at halftime with Antonio Di Natale, who scored Italy’s goal when the teams last met in a 1-1 draw in the group stage. Chances came at both ends. Di Natale failed to profit from two openings within six minutes of entering the game. First he headed over and was then unable to beat Casillas after receiving a pass from Riccardo Montolivo. In between those efforts Spain also went close.
Torres, Mata Score
Fabregas tricked his way past three players and was only denied by a last-gasp lunge as the goal loomed. Spain’s appeals for a handball off Leonardo Bonucci from the corner that followed were turned down by referee Pedro Proenca.
Italy’s chances effectively ended when Motta, who’d replaced Montolivo in the 57th minute, left on a stretcher.
The extra space allowed Spain to toy with its opponents and double the scoreline in the final six minutes.
First Xavi won the ball in midfield and immediately transferred it to Torres who rolled it into the corner of Buffon’s goal. Then Torres set up Chelsea teammate Mata to net in the 88th minute.
“We saw right from the start that they looked fresher, we had spent a lot of energy in the past week,” Prandelli said. “It was a fantastic tournament for us and I have to congratulate the lads.”
Spain beat Germany 1-0 at the Euro 2008 final in Vienna, when Torres got the goal. He’s now the only man to score in two Euro finals. Alba’s strike was his first for his country.
“It was my first final and we created history, I’m very happy,” Alba told reporters. “I can’t believe it, it still has to sink in. I’ve also signed for Barcelona and now I want to celebrate.”
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