Spain solidified their place in history on Sunday with their third consecutive major tournament win. Spain has become the first team to win consecutive European Cup titles which has led many to wonder: Is this the best football team ever?
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The answer to that question is: perhaps. They have a signature style with their tiki-taka passing and extraordinary technical skills. Del Bosque's 4-6-0 has come under heavy criticism, but it has certainly produced results. The downside is that for long stretches, particularly against France and Portugal, Spain has been dreadfully boring. This cannot be entirely blamed on Spain, who has been forced to compete with teams parking the bus, but they must at least be held partially responsible for not fielding a striker for long stretches.
Spain played their beautiful symphony throughout the first half, the opening stages had play flowing back and forth between the two sides. Spain eventually struck first when Cesc Fabregas broke down the Italian flank and cut inside before delivering a precise, pristine ball to the forehead of David Silva who powered in the header for the goal. Less than fifteen minutes into the match and Spain was already demonstrating their superiority.
All of Italy's good fortunes that saw them through to the final, betrayed them on Sunday. Shortly after the twenty minute mark, the lynchpin in their backline Giorgio Chiellini went down with an injury and had to be substituted for Federico Balzaretti. Italy had several opportunities, but none of them yielded results with Antonio Cassano's effort going straight at Iker Casillas and Mario Balotelli's long range shot sailing high and wide. Italy refused to allow Spain to dominate possession, controlling the ball for long stretches, but never were able to find their way through the suffocating Spanish defense.
Just before the halftime break Spain struck again. Jordi Alba took a lightning quick run down the left flank before receiving a Xavi pass the dissected the defense. Alba accepted the pass and found himself alone against keeper Gianluigi Buffon. Alba calmly slotted the ball past the Italian captain and Spain had earned their 2-0 lead. This capped off a fantastic tournament for Alba, earning his first competitive goal for Spain in the most spectacular setting.
Italy came out after the halftime break with something to prove, and set about doing that right from the first kick. Antonio Cassano was substituted following the break, still recovering from brain surgery and not fully fit, in favor of Antonio Di Natale. Italy immediately broke down the left side and eventually worked the ball around the Spanish penalty area before finding Di Natale in the center of the area, but the substitute sent the header sailing over the bar. Italy had another opportunity to get back in the game a few minutes later, but Di Natale's efforts were twice turned away by Iker Casillas.
Italian manager Cesare Prandelli has had a fantastic tournament, already exceeding expectations by reaching the Final. Prandelli has turned the Italian squad around after their awful 2010 World Cup campaign and this squad been a revelation for Italian fans. Under his guidance he has instituted a meritocratic system, managed giant egos, and successfully injected youth into a side dominated by the old guard. His team has utilized its experience, with Andrea Pirlo earning plaudits and entering into Ballon D'Or discussion after a fantastic tournament.
His influence has been undeniably positive, but his final influence on the final will be one he will want to forget. Pradelli opted to substitute the effective Riccardo Montolivo in favor of Thiago Motta, but just five minutes into Motta's appearance he suffered an injury. This forced Italy to play a man down for the remainder of the match. This severely affected the Italian squad, already suffering from fatigue, and they only managed one more effort at the Spanish goal, which Mario Balotelli again sent over the bar. It was a frustrating performance for the young striker, who was constantly hassled by the Spanish defense and not allowed a single touch inside the Spanish penalty area.
Fernando Torres was introduced in the 75th minute and made a significant impact on the match despite only featuring for the final fifteen minutes of regular time. For a striker out of form, he has found quite a great deal of success in recent months. Torres became the first player to score in two European Cup Finals, with a goal in the 84th minute, it was an easy finish past Buffon who had been continuously left out to dry by the Italian defense. Torres was not finished yet and earned an assist after selflessly passing to Juan Mata for Spain's fourth goal. The selfless act was enough to earn Torres the Golden Boot as the tournament's leading scorer.
Spain celebrated after the final whistle by bringing their children onto the pitch, while Mario Balotelli and Andrea Pirlo sobbed with their Italian teammates. The tournament concluded as many suspected it would, with Spain lifting the trophy for the second consecutive time. Their result was well earned, they responded to criticism with a fantastic display to silence their critics and sealed their place in history. They will return home to a nation in celebration, a much needed distraction from the prolonged economic hardships their nation has faced.