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Spain 4, Italy 0: Spain Hit Their Stride as Italy Hit the Wall

KIEV, UKRAINE - JULY 01:  The Henri Delaunay Cup is displayed ahead of the UEFA EURO 2012 final match between Spain and Italy at the Olympic Stadium on July 1, 2012 in Kiev, Ukraine.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - JULY 01: The Henri Delaunay Cup is displayed ahead of the UEFA EURO 2012 final match between Spain and Italy at the Olympic Stadium on July 1, 2012 in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
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There was hope before the match kicked off that Italy would be competitive, but a third tough game in a week would prove too much for them, and with Spain looking as inspired in attack as they ever have in a tournament under Vincente del Bosque it wasn't long before victory for the defending champions seemed certain. When a Thiago Motta injury after Cesare Prandelli had made his final substitution sent Italy down to ten men, the only question became how many goals Spain would score on route to a record third major trophy in a row.

Spain 4 Silva 14', Alba 41', Torres 84', Mata 88'
Italy 0

Italy stuck with four in defence and aggressive pressing to start the day rather than reverting to the three centre back formation that kept them in the game against Spain in their group stage opener, and in the early going at least things looked promising for them. Pressing high up the pitch, similar to how they approached their semi-final against Germany, forced Spain to quickly move the ball up to their forwards. And as had been the case when Spain played Portugal in their own semi-final, this led to openings for the underdogs on the break.

It didn't last, though, and before ten minutes had expired Italy began to sink deep, their increasingly passive approach allowing Spain's 4-6-0 formation with Cesc Fabregas again the closest thing to a striker to comfortably build play in midfield. Dissaster struck soon after for Italy, as 14 minutes in the growing Spanish possession paid off when Andres Iniesta slipped a perfectly weighted ball between defenders and into the path of an on-rushing Fabregas. The stand-in striker appeared to have taken the ball too far, driving all the way to the byline along the edge of Buffon's six-yard box, but a chipped cross back towards the penalty spot found the head of David Silva and sent Spain ahead.

Unlike in previous games at this year's Euros and at the 2010 World Cup, a Spanish goal and a passive defending opponent didn't lead to Spain lowering their own tempo. Almost as though they felt the need to answer growing criticisms over their possession football acquiring a distinctively negative edge under del Bosque, on this occasion they followed up their first goal by pressing for a second rather than attempting to smother their opponent by depriving them of the ball. Meanwhile, though Italy may not have been either willing or able to play a high pressing game, they refused to collapse in the face of continuous Spanish pressure, leading to a more open game than many would have suspected as the two sides traded chances to break.

The run of play, though, was clearly tilting in Spain's direction, and their willingness to attack quickly rather than inching up the pitch in possession was especially evident on the left, where Iniesta and Xavi repeatedly linked up with new Barcelona signing Jordi Alba. That more direct attacking play paid off shortly after the forty minute mark when Alba held up the ball in midfield before handing off to Xavi and starting his run. Italy, appearing unprepared to deal with Spain's willingness to play through balls down the channels, were caught flat footed when Alba kept heading towards the Italian goal rather than pulling up, and Xavi's pass put Alba clear on goal to finish low past Buffon.

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Prandelli did his best to change Italy's fading fortunes, bringing on Antonio Di Natale for the ineffective Cassano to start the second half. Di Natale's first touch almost put Italy back in the game two minutes after the restart, too, but his headed effort sailed over the bar and only led to a furious Spanish counter that required heroics from Buffon to keep any kind of hope alive.

Fifty-six minutes in, the Italian coach made his final change of the night, bringing on Thiago Motta for Riccardo Montolivo in an attempt to bolster Italy's midfield, but when four minutes later Motta went down clutching his hamstring with no Spanish player in sight, it all but marked the end for Italy and their increasingly faint hopes of a comeback. Playing their third game in a week, Italy had clearly hit the wall, and though they continued to battle gamely for a time, by the seventy minute mark the match had become little more than an extended coronation for Spain, on their way to a record third major trophy in a row and the first ever successful Euro defence.

Del Bosque's men began to put a shine on the victory after 84 minutes with a Fernando Torres goal, the striker sent clear on goal by Xavi as another direct ball down the channel beat Italy's increasingly tired defence. Then, less than five minutes later, Torres was clear again, and he unselfishly put the ball on a plate for fellow substitute and Chelsea teammate Juan Mata. Spain had their fourth, adding to their records by securing the largest margin of victory in a Euro final.

Italy put in a valiant effort in the tournament, fighting to play football against an almost wholly negative English side and coming out on top of the heavily favoured Germans, but with Spain fired up and in search of a record-setting victory it turned out to be too much to expect them to make much of a game of the final. In light of there early play, the score perhaps seems a touch harsh for the Italians, but at the same time it is a fair representation of the gulf between the two sides on display on this particular day.

This was a Spanish side at their absolute best, doing everything possible to secure their place amongst the greatest international sides in the history of the sport. And, unfortunately for Italy, after putting their all into just reaching the final, they had very little left to counter such determined opposition once they got there.

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