Euro 2012: La Furia Roja Create History In Kyiv


Let's call Spain what it is: The most accomplished international soccer team of all time. What more could you ask for? On a glorious night in Kyiv, Spain played a spectacular game against the four-time world champions, carving up the Italian defense with speed and precision to leave no doubt that this Spanish team's accomplishments deserve to be in the sport's pantheon ahead of Brazil (1958-62, 1970), France (1998-2000) and West Germany (1972-74). In doing so, Spain becomes the first country ever to be a two-time reigning European champion and World Cup champion at the same time. Just as importantly, Spain turned on the style more than it had at any point in this tournament, giving us brilliant passing sequences that led to goals by David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata. The highlights of their goals - the motion, the imagination, the beauty - will live on in the history of football, and for that we can all be thankful that we got the chance to witness it.

No Spanish center forward? No problem. For three weeks we'd heard questions about coach Vicente del Bosque's 4-6-0 lineup that lacked a true center forward, but the reality was that Spain never needed a diminished Torres as a starter. In the absence of all-time leading scorer David Villa, who was injured, Cesc Fabregas performed well in a withdrawn central role, scoring two goals in the tournament and providing a terrific assist at speed on Silva's opener in the final. This was a tournament of midfielders - no player in Euro 2012 scored more than three goals - and with six midfielders Spain was a perfect reflection of that fact. Just running through the names reveals an embarrassment of riches: Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Silva, Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets. Xavi in particular had a tremendous game in the final, combining with Alba and Torres on two beautiful goals and showing more verve and stamina than he had in previous games. But the truth was that all of the Spanish midfielders were in top form in a final for the ages.

Italy's own attacking play allowed for the spectacle. From the opening kickoff, Spain played at a faster pace than it had during any point in Euro 2012, going vertical with its passing and much less horizontal (as we had seen leading up to the final). Part of that may have been due to a Spanish desire to silence anyone who was criticizing them as "boring," but the main reason was Italy's decision to play attacking football of its own. The Italians created chances in this game and weren't going to change their tactics out of fear, for which coach Cesare Prandelli deserves a tremendous amount of credit. But Italy's forays upfield opened up space that the Spanish exploited with ruthless efficiency and speed. When you pack it in against Spain (a la France or Portugal, at least in the second half of the semis), playing fast, vertical football is exceedingly difficult. If space opens up, as it did against Italy, Spain will break you. Unfortunately, Italy's reduction to 10 men after Thiago Motta's injury (and the exhaustion of Italy's three subs) caused much of the second half to be a more conservative affair.

Spain 4 - 0 Italy

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