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|Spain 4-0 Italy: La Roja smash Italians on way to winning third major championship in a row|
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Is this Spanish side the greatest team ever? A strong case was put forward as the La Roja swatted aside Italy 4-0 on their way to lifting the European Championships in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Adding to their 2008 European Championships and 2010 World Cup wins, Spain cruised to victory with first half strikes from David Silva and Jordi Alba, and completed the rout in the latter stages with goals from substitutes Fernando Torres and Juan Mata.
After the first half hour, Italy actually had the possession advantage at 53%, the first time this has happened all tournament. But by this stage they were already 1-0 down and were picked off again with Alba's deep run just before half time.
The Italians came out more attacking in the second half but the game was over when Thiago Motta pulled a hamstring, reducing the Italians to ten men because of having used their substitutes. It was only a matter time before the Spanish picked off Italy on the break.
Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque again went with his famous “strikerless” formation. Despite having Fernando Torres, Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo available for selection, the Spanish opted for Cesc Fabregas in the “false 9” role with David Silva and Andres Iniesta supporting the former Arsenal captain. The midfield and defence remained unchanged with regulars such as Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos featuring at the heart of these areas.
Italy made one change with full-back Ignazio Abate returning from injury and squeezing out the impressive, but unlucky Federico Balzaretti. Manager Cesere Prandelli decided to stick with the 4-42 narrow diamond and not resort to the 3-5-2 he used against Spain in the group stages. The imperious Andrea Pirlo started at the base of the midfield diamond while Mario Balotelli started up front looking to continue his amazing form.
In a cagey first ten minutes, there was a scarcity of chances as both teams attempted to settle into the match. Both Pirlo and Ramos lashed long range efforts over the bar in this period.
Spain offered a warning to the Italians after 11 minutes when Fabregas layed the ball off to Xavi, who shot just over the bar with a first-time effort.
The breakthrough came only three minutes later when Iniesta put Fabregas through on the right side of the penalty area. The “false 9” just got to the ball before it reached the byline and his hard cross was headed home clinically by David Silva.
Italy were handed another blow in the 22nd minute when Giorgio Chiellini was forced off with injury and was replaced by Balzaretti at left-back.
The remainder of the first half was much of a struggle until a brilliant Iniesta pass split the Italians open.
After receiving the ball from Jordi Alba, Iniesta looked like he was running into a cul-de-sac but he somehow picked out Alba's gutbusting run and the new Barcelona signing finished clinically past Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon.
In establishing a 2-0 lead just before half time, the Spanish had all but secured their name on the trophy.
Chasing the game, Prandelli brought on Antonio Di Natale for Antonio Cassano and the Udinese front man had two chances to put his nation back in the game just after the restart. But he headed over the bar and shot straight at Casillas when his side badly needed a goal.
Fabregas nearly got a third for the Spanish on 51 minutes when he dribbled past two Italian defenders on a tight angle but could not quite get a shot away.
Things went from bad to worse on 61 minutes when Thiago Motta, substituted on four minutes earlier, pulled a hamstring and was stretchered off the arena. Because Prandelli had already made his three substitutions, the Italians were down to ten men for the last half hour.
With a man advantage, Spain dominated possession and caressed the ball around the pitch waiting for another opening.
It took until the 84th minute when substitute Fernando Torres scored his third goal of the tournament after an Italian turnover just outside the Spanish box. It was an excellent finish by Torres who joined five other players as tournament top scorer.
The icing was put on the cake four minutes later when Torres laid on a tap in for Juan Mata, who scored with his first touch of the tournament.
The 4-0 win by Spain means they have achieved the unprecedented effort of winning three major tournaments in a row, something that may never be surpassed.