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Midas One-Touch

‘Boring’ Spain play rip-roaring football as they trounce Italy to achieve unprecedented treble

Written by New York Times | Kiev | Published: July 3, 2012 3:00:28 am

JERÉ LONGMAN

Confetti rained and fireworks exploded as Spain held aloft the championship trophy of Europe. If Sunday’s 4-0 rout of Italy did not fully illustrate that La Roja was untouchable,even against its fiercest opponents,defender Sergio Ramos made celebrative passes on the field with a matador’s cape.

Spain put on a masterly performance with inspired and skewering passes,impenetrable defense and collective brilliance unsurpassed in this golden period. Or perhaps ever. Criticism that its tiki-taka style was dull appeared silly,fatuous.

Some had doubted Spain’s frequent choice to play without a traditional striker,as Vicente Del Bosque preferred six midfielders. Everyone must complain about everything,the coach had said,ignoring his critics.

On Sunday,his team attacked relentlessly and earned a victory that was as historic as it was dominant. Spain won its second consecutive Euro and third major in a row,along with the 2010 World Cup. No team has held so many important trophies at once.

Befitting its unselfishness and depth,Spain’s four goals came from different players — David Silva in the 14th minute,Jordi Alba in the 41st,Fernando Torres in the 84th and Juan Mata in the 88th. For a 10th consecutive match in the knockout rounds,not a single goal was conceded. As usual,goalkeeper Iker Casillas was unfaltering. Now the debate will escalate: can Spain rightfully be considered the greatest national team ever? It makes its argument on the strength of its creativity,patience,resilience,underappreciated defence and commitment to the team over a period of years when solidarity might have fractured into arrogance and egotism.

Total domination

The completeness of Spain’s victory could be found in the sad,shocked faces of the Italians,who had been assured in defence and newly ambitious in attack. This is a nation that has won four World Cups. Italy dared to attack on Sunday,but its players grew weary chasing the ball,as all teams do against Spain. And when the Azzurri were reduced to 10 men after a hamstring injury felled Thiago Motta in the 61st minute,with the score at 2-0,a revival became impossible.

“They completely dominated,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. “They really have made history,and deservedly so. They’ve been playing terrific football for many years.”

Prandelli’s plan was to close space in central midfield and win the ball. But from the opening whistle,Spain appeared much sharper with its short,geometric passing game than it had against Portugal in the semis. In the 14th minute,Andrés Iniesta played a through pass to Cesc Fàbregas,who beat the struggling Giorgio Chiellini to the end line. Fàbregas cut a pass back to the hurtling Silva,who headed the ball into the upper left corner. Spain 1-0.

An afterthought at the 2010 World Cup,Silva had since sought a more expanded role. On Sunday,he delivered the only goal necessary,completing a splendid year in which he also helped his club team,Manchester City,win its first Premier League title in 44 years.

Chiellini soon limped off,reinjuring a tender hamstring muscle that had kept him out of the quarters. His replacement at left back,Federico Balzaretti,brought energy down the flank,but Italy could not produce a goal. And in the 41st,Spain scored again with searing speed and intent.

Alba made a short pass to Xavi Hernandez,the playmaker who some believed looked tired after a long season with Barcelona. But Xavi seemed fresh and alert on 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 familiar exactness.

Gianluigi Buffon came rushing out of the Italian goal,but he was helpless as Alba sprinted past two defenders and scored his first international goal. “We were superior,” Xavi said later.

Body blow

It was not yet halftime,and the match was slipping away for Italy. It fell beyond reach when Motta,the third and final substitute,left in the 61st minute,shortly after entering the field. The remainder of the game offered redemption for Torres,who scored the lone,winning goal for Spain in the final of Euro 2008,but whose career since has mostly gone unfulfilled. His goal Sunday made him the first player to score in two European finals.

“We won being true to our style,” Casillas said. “What we do is difficult,but we make it look easy.”

Not to mention historic.

3-in-3 after 4-0

14’ Goal! Spain 1,Italy 0. Iniesta puts a perfect through ball for Fabregas,who in turn runs down the right touchline and pulls a head high cross back for Silva. The dimunitive man hammerheads it into the far left.

20’ Chiellini’s hamstring gives way and Prandelli wastes no time in replacing the defender with Balzaretti.

41’ Goal! Spain 2,Italy 0. Alba makes a darting run on the left,calmly slots home a Xavi through-ball on the counter.

Half-time’ Prandelli replaces Cassano with Di Natale.

56’ Motta replaces Montolivo,but minutes after entering the field,he tears his hamstring. With no more substitutions,Italy are down to 10 men for the remainder.

83’ Goal! Spain 3,Italy 0. Just eight minutes after coming on,Torres puts one past Buffon to make it a massacre.

88’ Goal! Spain 4,Italy 0. Torres plays Mata free,who does the ever so simple job of beating a deflated Buffon.

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