Michael Sohn/Associated Press
Michael Sohn/Associated Press
The defense was impenetrable. The offense was unstoppable. Simply put, it was another Spanish party on the international stage.
Spain won its third consecutive major soccer title Sunday, routing Italy 4-0 in the European Championship final and making it look all too easy.
“We were superior to Italy,” said midfielder Xavi Hernandez, perhaps Spain’s most influential player over the last four years. “We played a complete game and perhaps the best of the entire European Championship. We made history.”
David Silva and Jordi Alba scored first-half goals, and substitutes Fernando Torres and Juan Mata added two more in the final minutes as the Spanish passing game worked its magic against the Italians at the Olympic Stadium.
Silva headed in a high shot in the 14th minute off a pass from Cesc Fabregas. Alba added another in the 41st, picking up a beautiful through ball from Xavi and shooting past Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
“The game was ours after the first goal, but the truth is that we played one heck of a game,” Fabregas said.
Torres, who came on for Fabregas in the 75th minute, added the third goal with an easy finish, and Mata really put the game away in the 88th, knocking in a pass from Torres.
“They were a great rival, but we took control of the game as time went by,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said.
Spain won the Euro 2008 title four years ago in Vienna and followed that with the World Cup title in Johannesburg two years ago.
“They had made history before, and I could now,” said Alba, who has played only nine matches for Spain. “I don’t believe it, but little by little it is sinking in.”
Torres also scored the lone goal in the 1-0 win over Germany in 2008, making him the first man to score in two European Championship finals.
Italy’s task was tough enough with 11 players, and it became impossible with just 10 after the 64th minute. All its substitutes were used when midfielder Thiago Motta, who had only been on the field for seven minutes, was taken off because of injury.
Not only has Spain won every knockout game since losing to France in the second round of the 2006 World Cup, but goalkeeper Iker Casillas hasn’t allowed a goal in that 10-game span. The last player to beat him is such an important match was Zinedine Zidane, and he retired after that tournament.
Sunday’s win was a record 100th for Casillas in international soccer.
“(Sunday), there was no contest,” Buffon said. “They were too superior, so the bitterness at losing this final is only relative.”
Spain was the favorite heading into the match but also seemed primed for a loss after being held to a 1-1 draw by the Italians in their opening Group C match. Spain, which has been experimenting with a lineup that excludes a recognized striker, needed a penalty shootout to reach the final after a 0-0 tie with Portugal in the semifinals.
The controversial lineup, which Del Bosque again employed Sunday, is akin to playing in the Super Bowl without a running back. Sure, you still can score touchdowns, but you give up on the chance for a game-breaking play.
Spain did just fine without the strikers, but they did even better when Torres came on. Although he has struggled both for Spain and Chelsea recently – and was relegated to the bench for four of the six games at Euro 2012 – Torres came on Sunday and made a difference.
But as good as the play was up front for Spain, it was the steady hands of Casillas at the back that likely preserved the victory.
Casillas made a point-blank save on a shot from Antonio Di Natale at the start of the second half and twice tipped crosses out of danger just before the Italians could get their heads to the ball.
With every save, and of course with every goal, the huge group of Spain supporters cheered and screamed. The red-shirted fans dominated one corner of the stadium, filling up more than six sections of the Olympic Stadium. On the opposite side, the blue-clad Italians were far outnumbered, with dozens of empty yellow seats poking through the mass of supporters.
The political aspect of the game involved several heads of state. Italian Premier Mario Monti, along with other EU leaders, had said they would not travel to Ukraine for the tournament because of the politically tainted jailing of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. But that didn’t stop him from attending the final in Kiev.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also attended the match and got to watch as his players celebrated with confetti and fireworks when they lifted yet another major trophy.