Oh we of little faith. Spain crushed Italy 4-0 to retain the Henri Delaunay trophy in awesome style and dispel any suspicions that this magnificent team…
…and the ground-breaking fashion in which they have achieved their success, are worthy of anything other than praise and adulation.
The four-goal margin was cruel on an Italian outfit who had performed marvellously up until this point in the competition, but pity or any appreciation that they have been the hapless opposition against the two sides – Brazil in 1970 and the current crop of gifted Spaniards – now destined to be labelled as international football’s greatest, will be of scant consolation to the Azzurri. If any more proof were necessary to validate Spain’s legendary status despite their unique achievement in becoming the first team to win a third consecutive major tournament while emerging as the only side to score four in a European Championship final in the process – then it can be easily found in the astonishing statistic showing La Roja have not conceded a goal in any of the ten knockout matches they have played in any of the knockout rounds of those three tournaments.
Vincente Del Bosque had returned to the personnel in who he trusted when these teams met earlier in the tournament which meant Cesc Fabregas was included at the expense of a recognised striker, it made Spain no less of a threat and they were ahead inside 14 minutes when an inch-perfect pass from Andres Iniesta sent Fabregas through on the right of the area, the angle narrowed as he bore down on goal but Fabregas curled the ball back excellently into the path of David Silva, who accurately headed into the far corner. Italy rallied but the Spanish were comfortable and struck clinically four minutes before the break when Jordi Alba burst forward from, nominally, his full back role and was sublimely picked out by Xavi as his new Barcelona club mate broke clear and curled a neat finish past Gianluigi Buffon to almost casually net his first international goal in the biggest game of his career to date.
The Azzurri’s best openings both arrived within minutes of the restart and both fell to substitute Antonio Di Natale, who was the only player to score against Spain in the competition before the final but couldn’t repeat his earlier exploits as he first headed over and then hurried a left-footed effort which gave Iker Casillas a chance to block after the Udinese striker had broken the offside trap. A crushing blow was then dealt to the Italians when their final substitute, Thiago Motta, had to be withdrawn with a hamstring injury just three minutes after coming on to condemn them to their fate half an hour from full-time. Substitutes Fernando Torres, who slotted a composed first-time finish from another wonderfully weighted pass from Xavi, and Juan Mata, with his first touch of the tournament from a generous cutback when Torres again found himself in a one on one, completed the rout in the final six minutes.
That unselfish act actually earned Torres the Golden Boot, as although his tally of three goals and an assist was matched by pre-tournament favourite Mario Gomez, it was achieved in less playing time than the German striker completed at the tournament – that in itself was quite an individual feat to claim playing for a team that didn’t generally contain a centre forward. That was a further accolade on the Chelsea striker’s CV after he became the first player to score in successive European Championship Finals to add to the FA Cup and Champions League winners’ medals he won back in May in what was, as odd as it now sounds, his least impressive season for quite some time on an individual level. Although, in something of a nightmare scenario for bookies, the lowest number of goals to win the Golden Boot for 20 years meant it ended as a six-way tie at the top of the goalscoring charts with Mario Balotelli, Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Dzagoev and Mario Mandzukic completing a costly line-up for betting shops while earning wily punters a worthy return.
The 5/2 pre-tournament favourites fulfilment of their destiny also proved expensive on the house, and you can take it as red that La Roja will be the shortest odds available when they head to Brazil with their sights set on defending a World Cup title in two years time.