KIEV, July 2: Certainly the best in the world and maybe the best ever. Majestic Spain took their place among the game’s greats by thrashing Italy 4-0 to retain their European title on Sunday, the biggest victory margin in a World Cup or Euro final (partly reported in Monday’s edition).
Goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba and late substitutes Fernando Torres and Juan Mata gave the world champions an ultimately easy victory over an Italian team down to 10 men through injury for the last half-hour.
Vicente del Bosque’s team became the first side to successfully defend a European Championship title, as well as the first to win three consecutive major tournaments after their triumphs at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
“It was a great match for our players, they controlled the game,” Del Bosque told reporters. “We had possession of the ball, we put pressure on them, and there was depth to our play. So we’re very happy.
“This success in Spanish football is something historic. To win three titles is almost impossible. Congratulations to the players.”
Italy played the last half an hour with 10 men after third substitute Thiago Motta was forced off by injury moments after coming on, as the momentum that had taken the Azzurri past Germany and England in the knockout rounds disappeared.
“We came up against a terrific side,” admitted Italy coach Cesare Prandelli. “They’re world champions. Obviously, when you go down to 10 men, the game’s over.
“They made history and deservedly — they have a lot of players who are tried and tested at this level.
“This was a great European Championship for us. Really the only regret is that we didn’t have a few extra days to recuperate.
“When we see the lights of the Kiev stadium from the airplane it will be painful, but tomorrow we’ll have a new outlook. We have shown that you can lose with dignity.”
The star of the semi-final win over the Germans, Mario Balotelli endured a fruitless evening, while Andrea Pirlo was upstaged by the pass masters in the Spanish midfield.
“Against Spain, you accept losing more easily,” said Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon. “It was a great adventure. In a final, you have to win but today we played against a team of incredible quality so the bitterness at losing this final is only relative.”
Spain allowed Italy the majority of first-half possession, yet their trademark quick passing game was lethal when required — as was the finishing in front of goal. The second half was almost entirely one-way traffic.When called into action, goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas excelled by keeping Italy’s attack at bay.
“These years have been the best of my life,” said Casillas, who recorded his 10th consecutive clean sheet in tournament knockout matches. “I hope it can be matched in the future but it will be hard.”
Sergio Ramos and Xavi had already threatened Buffon’s goal when Spain took the lead in the 14th minute.
Andres Iniesta threaded a superb incisive forward pass to Cesc Fabregas, who slipped around Giorgio Chiellini before cutting the ball back for Silva to head home.
Chiellini’s evening lasted barely more than 20 minutes, as the Juventus defender was forced off after landing awkwardly and had to be replaced by Federico Balzaretti.
Spain’s second goal came from left-back Alba, who burst through a static defence like a midfielder, picking up the ball from Xavi’s pass like Usain Bolt collecting a baton in a relay before slotting home for his first international goal in the 41st.
Italy’s second-half substitute Antonio Di Natale — who scored the only goal Spain conceded here, in a 1-1 draw to open their Group ‘C’ campaign — quickly forced Casillas into a double save when released into space by Pirlo’s clever pass.
Italy’s hopes of a comeback, though, evaporated in the 62nd minute, as Motta was carried off on a stretcher in obvious pain with an apparent hamstring injury just five minutes after replacing Riccardo Montolivo, leaving Prandelli’s side with 10 men.
The game dipped in intensity until the arrival of Torres, who slid his shot past Buffon and inside the far post for Spain’s third from Xavi’s pass in the 84th minute to become the first player to score in two Euro finals following his goal against Germany in Vienna four years ago.
Minutes later, Mata came off the bench like Torres, and took his Chelsea team-mate’s pass to score into an Italian goal left unguarded by Buffon as the duo became one of a handful of players to win the Champions League and European Championship in the same season.—Agencies