SO the Spanish are boring? What a load of bull. Wounded by the barbs about being too negative, this was the most emphatic of answers in Kiev last night as they crushed Italy to lift the Euro 2012 trophy.
In doing so the Spanish also established a record three tournament victories in a row having also triumphed at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
We may be witnessing the greatest team in football history, one that threatens to put the Brazilians in the shade.
First-half goals from Manchester City’s David Silva and full-back Jordi Alba did the serious damage.
And, after Italy went down to 10 men with half an hour left and no substitutes left to call upon when crocked Thiago Motta pulled up, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata finished them off.
Chelsea’s £50million man Torres became the first man to score in two European Championship finals.
For him and Mata, these were their third winners’ medals in less than two months to add to FA Cup and Champions League gongs.
And by virtue of also having an assist and played fewer minutes than Germany’s Mario Gomez, Torres claimed the Golden Boot with his three goals in the tournament.
Considering what a dreadful season Torres has had, that is some return. This was probably a game too far for the Italians. Andrea Pirlo has been one of the stars of the tournament but he could not get a kick.
The reason for that was that Spain lined up with six midfielders and no recognised striker.
It looked like a sign of Spanish negativity but instead they picked their way through their opponents with some astonishing rapier-like attacks and defence-splitting passes.
Pirlo, 33, was in tears at the end, knowing he may never tread this stage at the end. Mario Balotelli was another in tears on a night he will want to forget.
He was sensational with his double in the semi-final against Germany but Mario went missing on this occasion because he could not get the ball.
Italy, though, deserve great credit for the way they have performed here. They have huge problems at home over match- fixing allegations which threaten to tear their domestic game apart but, as a group, they have rallied together.
None other than Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, a champion of passing football, had been critical of Spain saying their first priority was “not to lose’. But from the moment Sergio Ramos headed over Xavi’s corner it was clear Vicente del Bosque’s men were in a much more positive mindset.
There followed a quite brilliant move involving what seemed like the entire Spanish team and ended with Cesc Fabregas laying the ball into the path of Xavi who shot over from the edge of the box.
That was the prelude to Spain’s opener which, again, was beautifully crafted and this time had the finish to match.
A slide-rule ball from Andres Iniesta found Fabregas who out-muscled Giorgio Chiellini and got to the bye-line before cutting back a cross which Silva headed into the top left-hand corner. It meant Silva had been involved in five goals in this competition, scoring two and making three.
The goal came from the sort of incisive attack which Spain had struggled to produce in the goalless 120-minute semi-final against the Portuguese.
Italy were being cut to pieces and lost Chiellini to a recurrent thigh injury.
However, the Azzurri managed a few passes of their own and, after Antonio Cassano popped up on the left, he drilled in a low shot which went through a crowd of defenders but could not beat Iker Casillas. Cassano was there again with a right-foot drive from 20 yards which was pushed away by Casillas.
Remarkably, the Italians were enjoying the lion’s share of possession — an unusual position for Spain to find themselves in.
But it was a false indicator and Del Bosque’s men struck again through the unlikely source of new Barcelona left-back Alba.
He showed why he should be a hit at the Nou Camp with a lung-busting burst. Alba played a ball to Xavi and went on a 40-yard sprint past the Italian defence to get the perfectly-weighted return and finish neatly past the helpless Gianluigi Buffon.
Italy had a monumental task on now to get out of this hole.
Cassano, who had been carrying an injury after the semi, was taken off at the break to be replaced by Antonio Di Natale. And the sub had two quick chances to get his country back in the game. First he headed over Ignazio Abate’s cross and was also denied by Casillas from 10 yards out when he should have done better.
In between time, however, Spain had strong claims for a penalty waved away even though Ramos’ header clearly struck the left hand of centre-back Leonardo Bonucci.
Italy were giving it a go but it was hard to see them turning things around.
And when Motta, Italy’s third and final sub, pulled up with a hamstring injury only three minutes after replacing Riccardo Montolivo, the game was up. It is hard enough trying to beat Spain with 11 men. With 10 there was no chance.
As the Italians tired, they were undone by Torres who converted Xavi’s through ball.
Then Mata, making his first appearance of the competition, tucked away a Torres pass to complete the night.
DREAM TEAM RATINGS
STAR MAN - XAVI (Spain)
SPAIN: Casillas 7, Arbeloa 7, Pique 7, Ramos 7, Alba 8, Busquets 8, Alonso 8, Xavi 9, Silva 8 (Pedro 5), Iniesta 8 (Mata 7), Fabregas 8 (Torres 8). Booked: Pique.
ITALY: Buffon 5, Abate 6, Barzagli 5, Bonucci 5, Chiellini 4 (Balzaretti 5), Pirlo 5, Marchisio 5, Montolivo 5 (Motta 3), De Rossi 6, Balotelli 4, Cassano 5 (Di Natale 6). Booked: Barzagli.
Italy Player Ratings
GIANLUIGI BUFFON — 5
KNOWS how to belt out the national anthem — and was also shouting at his players as they were run ragged.
This is one of the low points of a great career — but most of it was not his fault.
IGNAZIO ABATE — 6
HELD out well under pressure and delivered some stunning tackles.
Got an early elbow in the face but carried on. After the second goal, it was a real horror show for him.
ANDREA BARZAGLI — 5
POOR defending for the opening goal as he did not get anywhere near Silva.
Redeemed himself until the 10 men caved in. Booked.
LEONARDO BONUCCI — 5
LUCKY to avoid giving away a second-half penalty when Ramos’ effort hit his hand.
As the game opened up, he was exposed. Not the best defender Italy have had.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI — 4
BAD week! Missed England game injured, returned against Germany. Got in trouble against Fabregas for the opening goal. Then went off injured again.
ANDREA PIRLO — 5
IT’S a shame he did not play like this against England.
Was completely neutralised in the first half. Nothing like the fine performance that caused England so very many problems a week ago.
CLAUDIO MARCHISIO — 5
HE was anonymous. Italy needed a big performance from him in midfield and it did not happen.
Little wonder he left the field shaking his head like his pals.
DANIELE DE ROSSI — 6
MISPLACED a pass that led to Spain’s third goal and this summed up his performance.
Looked tired and was always chasing red shirts.
MARIO BALOTELLI — 4
ITALY needed a stunning display from Balotelli but Mario II turned up.
Moody performance and also lazy.
ANTONIO CASSANO — 5
MORE bonkers than Balotelli. Shame there are no dressing-room cameras — his likely reaction at being subbed at half-time may have made fun viewing. He could not complain.
RICCARDO MONTOLIVO — 5
PLAYING behind the front two, Italy had to get the ball to his feet to try and pull Spain’s defence out of position. It didn’t work and he was taken off.
BALZARETTI (Chiellini 22 mins) Got dream appearance but it didn’t go well 5.
DI NATALE (Cassano 46 mins) Put in a shift but not good enough. 6
MOTTA (Montolivo 57 mins). Disaster — went off crocked.
HAS emerged from Euro 2012 with great credit despite this painful lesson.
He gambled by using all three subs early — and lost when Motta went off injured leaving them down to 10 men.
But the simple fact is his team were outclassed.
RATINGS: CHARLIE WYETT
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