Spain claimed their second straight European Championship and a record third major title in a row with a dominating performance against Italy. Nonetheless the final in Kyev, Ukraine was a reasonably entertaining affair.
Spain and Italy both began aggressively, with the Italians surprisingly enjoying more of the ball in the early minutes.
But just before the quarter-of-an-hour mark, their defense was tied in knots by a classic bit of Spanish footballing brilliance. An acutely angled Andres Iniesta pass found Cesc Fabregas on the end line, and the Barcelona player had the presence of mind to pull the ball back to David Silva, who headed home.
Spain had taken a lot of flak for what many fans considered their boring, possession-oriented, short-passing game - as well as for starting formations that featured six midfielders and no center forward. But no one was complaining about that stunner of a goal.
To their credit, the Italians kept their cool and forced Spanish keeper Iker Casillas to punch the ball away from goal on multiple occasions.
But Italy failed to generate any top-caliber chances, and an ice-cold Spain struck again in minute 41. Xavi waited until precisely the right minute and then released Jordi Alba, who curled his shot past Gianluigi Buffon.
Italy again came out swinging after the restart but had a mountain to climb against a Spain squad that finally lived up to its pre-tournament billing. Italian midfield Andrea Pirlo had his hands full defensively, and mercurial striker Mario Balotelli never got the ball in the danger zone.
And the Italian cause wasn't helped when Thiago Motta, Italy's third substitute, had to quit the match injured, leaving Italy a man down for the final thirty minutes.
Spain were basically content to run out the clock at that point, which they did with characteristic humorless efficiency. In minute 83, substitute Fernando Torres added a third goal, latching on to a pass by Xavi - as if Spain were trying to show that they could score as well playing with a center forward.
And a few minutes from time, Juan Mata completed the scoreline - scant seconds after being substituted into the match. The margin of victory was the largest ever in a European Championship final.
A historic win
"We knew that we couldn't let Spain get through our defense," shell-shocked Italy coach Cesare Prandelli told reporters after the drubbing. "But we couldn't always prevent that."
Spain's players were understandably ecstatic.
"It's wonderful to defend the title," Jordi Alba enthused after the match. "We had made history before, and now we have done it again."
Spain’s triumph makes the Furia Roja the only team ever to win three major international titles in a row (Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup being the other two). It also stakes their claim to being the greatest national team in history.
And with Spain having conceded only one goal the entire tournament and having beaten a determined, disciplined and offensively potent Italy, it is hard to argue with that claim.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Jessie Wingard