15th December 2017

Spain takes Euro Cup home, leaving team Italy aching behind

The following appeared in New York Times and has all the details of the great game by Spain the Euro Cup final. Enjoy the amusing account and don’t forget a thumbs up for Spaniards once done!
KIEV, Ukraine — All the criticism seemed empty now, silly. This was classic Spain, inspired and precise and piercing with its passes, impenetrable on defense, unsurpassed in this golden period of international soccer.
With a 4-0 rout of Italy on Sunday, Spain won its second consecutive European championship and third major title in a row, along with the 2010 World Cup. The goals were scored by David Silva in the 14th minute, Jordi Alba in the 41st minute, Fernando Torres in the 84th minute and Juan Mata in the 88th. For a 10th consecutive match, La Roja did not surrender a goal in the knockout round of a major tournament.
No previous team has won three major championships in succession. So the debate will grow intense about whether Spain, with its unselfish and attractive style, can rightfully be considered the greatest national team ever.
In polls, the 1970 World Cup champion from Brazil, and the beautiful game played by Pele, Carlos Alberto and Rivelino, has until now often been considered the apogee of soccer. Others favor the Magnificent Magyars of Hungary in the early 1950s. Or the Total Football played by the Netherlands at the 1974 World Cup. Or the French team of Zinedine Zidane that won a World Cup in 1998 and a European title in 2000.
Now Spain will have its argument to make on the strength of its creativity, patience, underappreciated defense and commitment to the team over a period of years when solidarity might have fractured into arrogance and egotism.
“I think Spain deserves the compliment,” said the United States Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, a former star forward for Germany. “It speaks of outstanding class and the marriage of hunger and desire. To win the title, at the end of the day, you need to be a total giver for your team. You need to be able to suffer through the difficult moments and to put your ego totally on the side. What they’ve shown in the past few years, now playing without a striker, is that they find ways to confuse, to create chances, to make everyone else look not capable. I think this is the team of the century.”
Vicente Del Bosque, Spain’s coach, had dismissed the criticism by some that his team was dull and too cautious, saying, “People don’t like it, but it’s the style that brought us our success. But of course, we have to complain about everything all the time.”
No one will be able to complain — at least not legitimately — now.
Against Italy, Spain again opened without a traditional striker, playing with six midfielders. Italy made one change from a 1-1 tie with Spain in group play. Happy with his team’s balance in recent matches, Coach Cesare Prandelli shifted from a three-man back line to a four-man line with Ignazio Abate inserted at right back.
Prandelli was clear about Italy’s plan for the final: “Our first aim will be to shut down space and win the ball. Where we try to win the ball will depend on us and also how good Spain are. For us, it is important to remain focused on our target — close the space in the central midfield.”
It did not work. From the opening whistle, Spain appeared much sharper than it had against the high pressure of Portugal in the semifinals. In the 14th minute, Andrés Iniesta played a through pass to Cesc Fàbregas, who beat the struggling Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini to the end line. Fàbregas cut a pass back to the hurtling Silva, who headed the ball on the dead run into the upper left corner, giving Spain a 1-0 lead.
After being an afterthought at the 2010 World Cup, Silva had been seeking a more expanded role with La Roja. And he delivered when it counted Sunday, completing a season in which he also helped his club team, Manchester City, win its first English Premier League title in 44 years.
Chiellini soon limped off the field, apparently reinjuring a tender hamstring muscle that had kept him out of the quarterfinals against England. His replacement at left back, Federico Balzaretti, brought energy down the flank. In the 27th minute, Balzaretti lifted a cross that might have produced a goal, except that Iker Casillas, the Spanish goalkeeper, essentially grabbed the pass off of the head of forward Mario Balotelli.
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Italy got the better of the play for about the next 10 minutes but could not score. Antonio Cassano made a clever cutback move and rolled a shot through the legs of Gerard Piqué. Casillas, though, was there to scoop it up like a shortstop. Balotelli fired high from distance.
Spain was not done. After a goal kick in the 41st minute, it scored with great speed and clinical finishing. Alba played a short pass to Xavi, the playmaker whom some believed looked tired after a long season with Barcelona. He had been substituted for during the semifinals before the match extended to penalty kicks. But Xavi seemed fresh and alert Sunday. His shot from the top of the penalty area flew just high in the 10th minute. A half hour later, he received the pass from Alba and played it back to him with great exactness.
The Italians were caught out of position and Alba sliced past Abate and Leonardo Bonucci. Gianluigi Buffon came rushing out of the Italian goal, but he was helpless as Alba scored his first international goal on a low-left footed shot, putting Spain ahead 2-0.
After halftime, Italy brought on Antonio di Natale for Cassano. Di Natale had scored in the 1-1 tie against Spain in the group phase of the tournament. A minute into the second half of the final, he got another inviting chance, only to head the ball over the crossbar. In the 51st minute, Di Natale had another opportunity but Casillas rushed out for a reflexive save.
In the 61st minute, Italy’s Thiago Motta sustained a hamstring injury and left the match on a stretcher, leaving Italy with only 10 men. It is difficult enough to beat Spain with a full lineup, but with a man down, it is impossible.
In the 84th minute, it was time for a redemptive moment for Torres. He had scored the lone, winning goal for Spain over Germany in the 2008 European final, but his career has since been mostly unfulfilled. Often, he had been ignored by Del Bosque at these championships. But Torres rolled a shot inside the right post Sunday, then found Mata for yet another goal in the 88th minute. As Torres celebrated, an entire nation exulted with him.

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