Reigning European champions Spain played its second consecutive European Championship final against Italy Sunday. The national team steamrolled over a struggling Italy and solidified its spot in history.
While Pedro did not receive the start that fans thought he deserved, five FC Barcelona players did break the lineup. Casillas, Arbeloa, Ramos, Piqué, Alba, Busquets, Alonso, Xavi, Silva, Cesc and Iniesta all began the game on the pitch.
As for Italy, Buffon, Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, Marchisio, Pirlo, DeRossi, Montolivo, Cassano and Balotelli set up to battle La Roja.
The Spanish kicked off with intensity and hunted for the first goal – a marked difference from the team’s usual style of play throughout the tournament. Italy was taken a little by surprise and struggled to catch up to Spain’s passing for the first few minutes.
Unfortunately for the Italians, Spain did capitalize on the fiery start. In the 14th minute, a true team effort finished in a goal. Cesc slid the ball across the box straight to Silva’s head. The Manchester City man’s effort sailed to the roof of the net and sent Spain to the lead.
A substitution spared Chiellini from spending any more time on the pitch after an embarrassing and dangerous giveaway. Balzaretti replaced the defender and his injured knee in the 21st minute.
Piqué earned a yellow card in the 25th minute. He tried to regain possession from Cassano with a tackle in the midfield but the referee deemed his attempt too risky.
Alba proved he would fit in just fine at his new team in the 41st minute. The left-back made a staggering run through the defense and Xavi waited to pass the ball until he was just onside. Alba latched on to the assist and outran the Italian defenders before beating Buffon for a goal. Spain now enjoyed a 2-0 lead over its rivals.
Italy’s frustrations at trailing by two goals before 45 minutes showed in a nasty tackle. The referee booked Barzagli with a yellow card in the 43rd minute for chopping down Iniesta on the flank.
At halftime, Spain looked comfortably in the lead and in control of the game, while Italy struggled for just spurts of possession. Although the Italians had a few long distance attempts, Casillas parried them all and the Azzurri would need a new strategy to make an impact in the second half.
Italy began the second half with a substitution of Cassano off for Di Natale. While the goal still eluded the Azzurri, the players managed to hold off another deadly Spain attack.
Italy chose to make another substitution in the 56th minute when Thiago Motta came on for Montolivo. Del Bosque soon followed with his first change of Pedro on for Silva. Unfortunately for Italy, less than 10 minutes after Motta entered the pitch, he exited on a stretcher with a right hamstring injury. Italy had used all of its substitutions already and bad luck forced the team to play out the game with 10 men.
The Italians lost a lot of power playing a man down and Spain seemed to ease off the gas as well. With a win all but sealed up, Spain didn’t need to terrorize the weakened opponents. In the 75th minute, Cesc took Torres’ spot on the bench. The struggling Spanish striker entered the game in a situation reminiscent of the World Cup final substitution, but he hoped to become the first player to score in two European championship finals.
Torres silenced his critics one more time by actually succeeding. The Chelsea man rolled the ball past Buffon after a Xavi assist in the 84th minute to score in consecutive finals and relive the peak of his playing career – winning the Euro for Spain just like four years ago.
Mata earned his first – albeit brief – playing minutes of the tournament when he came on for Iniesta in the 87th minute. The other Chelsea man only needed those few short minutes to score. Torres unselfishly passed the ball to his teammate in the better position and Mata finished, bringing Spain up 4-0.
If Spain accomplished one thing in the final of the 2012 European championships, it was that it is not a boring team. The Spanish crushed a suffering Italy 4-0 in just 90 minutes and captured its second consecutive Euro title and third major trophy in four years.
And one more thing the Spanish proved – This era of Spain may very well be the best national team of all time.
Image Source: REUTERS/Tony Gentile