Spain saved its best for last at soccer’s European Championship.
Going for an unprecedented third straight major trophy having been accused of boring opponents into submission, Spain routed Italy 4-0 in last night’s final with a style that produced the most lopsided result in the continental championship’s title match.
The victory at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium made Spain the first team to repeat as European champion and the first from the continent to win three straight major competitions following its 2010 World Cup success.
“Those people who think we are playing boring in my opinion don’t understand the game,” Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas, recalled to the starting lineup for the final after coach Vicente Del Bosque opted to play without a specialist striker, told reporters. “Three major trophies in a row has never been done before in the history of football.”
Before the match, critics including Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said Spain had “betrayed its philosophy” by starving opponents of the ball with its so-called Tiki-Taka style, where it uses short, fast passes to dominate possession and thwart rivals rather than creating chances.
Last night’s match was the first time in the elimination stages of a major tournament that Spain scored at least three goals since beating Russia 3-0 in the Euro 2008 semifinals.
Of the seven games in between that game and last night’s final, Spain had five straight 1-0 victories before a 2-0 win against France on June 23. It beat Portugal in a penalty shootout in last week’s semifinal following a 0-0 draw.
Throughout the monthlong Euro 2012 tournament in Poland and Ukraine, Del Bosque and his players were repeatedly asked the same question by reporters: “Are Spain boring?”
“We are not here to say that our game is the most beautiful of them all,” Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta said after being named as the final’s man of the match. “Everyone has a different opinion. Today, we had a great level of play and we were faithful to our style.”
Against an Italian team forced to play a man down for the last 30 minutes because of injury, Spain scored twice in each half by passing the ball around, in between and through its opponent accurately and quickly.
The 4-0 scoreline was the biggest margin of victory for any European Championship or World Cup final.
Unlike many of Spain’s recent opponents, Italy pressed high up the field to try and break up its passing patterns that had yielded a tournament-high possession average of 60 percent in the five matches before the final.
While that created openings for Italy, it allowed a Spain team featuring seven of the top 10 passers at the tournament to pick gaps. The opening goal involved a 13-pass move and ended with David Silva heading in Fabregas’s cross in the 14th minute. Left-back Jordi Alba added a second five minutes before half time when he collected Xavi Hernandez’s return pass before hitting a low shot past Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Italy’s half time substitute Antonio Di Natale missed two chances to get his team back into the game within six minutes of the second half starting. When Thiago Motta’s contribution ended four minutes after he came on in the 57th minute as Italy’s final substitute, Italy was forced to play the remainder of the match with 10 men.
“Perhaps we could have got back into it at the start of the second half, but once Thiago Motta went off injured we had nothing left in the tank,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said in a post-match news conference.
Del Bosque introduced striker Fernando Torres and Chelsea forward Juan Mata to stretch the tired Italians, who had one fewer day to recover following their 2-1 semifinal win against tournament favorite Germany.
Following a period of possession that had Spanish fans cheering each pass with shouts of “Ole,” Torres got the third goal in the 84th minute. He took Xavi’s pass before placing the ball into the corner for his third goal of the tournament, putting him into a six-way tie atop the goal-scoring list.
Rather than trying to take the outright scoring lead, Torres teed up his club teammate Mata four minutes later to complete the rout with his first touch.
After lifting the Henri Delaunay Cup for the second straight time, Spain captain Iker Casillas said his team is hungry to extend its record-breaking run.
“We want to keep on winning,” Casillas told reporters.