Monday, July 2, 2012

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Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas lifts the trophy after the Euro 2012 soccer championship final between Spain and Italy in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, July 1, 2012. Spain won the match 4-0. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

KIEV, Ukraine—Certainly the best in the world and maybe the best ever. Definitely not boring.

Spain opened a fresh debate on its place in world soccer history after sweeping to a majestic 4-0 victory over Italy in the European Championship final on Sunday.

For the third consecutive major tournament, Spain's outstanding goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas was there at the end to lift the trophy. After Euro 2008 in Vienna and the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg, Casillas and Spain completed an unprecedented hat trick for a European nation.

"To win three titles is almost impossible. Congratulations to the players," said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who followed Luis Aragones as coach after Euro 2008.

And this was the same team that critics had called boring during Euro 2012?

Spain emphatically shut down that discussion, providing the perfect response with the most one-sided final in European Championship history.

No team has ever won a World Cup final by four clear goals, either. Even Pele's Brazil only managed a three-goal margin a couple of times.

"It was more difficult when people didn't believe in us," Spain playmaker Xavi Hernandez said. "The bar was very high, but they are nice challenges."

Pity poor Italy, which leaves Euro 2012 showered with popular acclaim as the most watchable team in some years from a country renowned for defensive tactics.

Playing Spain with 11 players is tough enough. Trying it with 10 for much of the second half is almost impossible.

With all three substitutes used, Thiago Motta was injured and unable to continue after the 64th minute, and an exhausted Italian side limped through to the end.

"This was a great European Championship for us," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "Really the only regret is that we didn't have a few extra days to recuperate.

"When we see the lights of the Kiev stadium from the airplane it will be painful, but tomorrow we'll have a new outlook. We have shown that you can lose with dignity."

Goals from David Silva and Jordi Alba in the first half gave Spain a convincing lead at the Olympic Stadium. Fernando Torres and fellow substitute Juan Mata scored in the last six minutes to turn victory into a rout.

When the final whistle was blown, Spain's players rushed to each other and huddled in a circle, jumping and spinning in celebration.

There were more hugs later in the dressing room, this time with Crown Prince Felipe of Spain.

A regal presence was appropriate for a Spanish team whose four-year reign over world soccer shows little sign of ending.

Spain allowed Italy the majority of first-half possession, yet its trademark quick passing game was lethal when required -- as was the finishing in front of goal. The second half was almost entirely one-way traffic

When called into action, Casillas excelled by keeping Italy's attack at bay.

"These years have been the best of my life," said Casillas, who recorded his 10th consecutive clean sheet in tournament knockout matches. "I hope it can be matched in the future but it will be hard."

Critics of Spain's style said the world and European champions had become tedious -- keeping possession with endless back-and-forth passes to stifle games, not to win them.

But Spain answered by playing its best and slickest soccer at Euro 2012 when most was at stake.

Along with some sublime soccer, it also delivered the most comprehensive victory in a European Championship final, surpassing West Germany's 3-0 win over the Soviet Union in 1972.

"We won being true to our playing style, and by moving the ball the way we moved it we knew how to take charge of the match," Casillas said. "What we do is difficult but we make it look easy."

Xavi's Italian counterpart, Andrea Pirlo, failed to orchestrate play as he had done when Germany and England were eliminated from the knockout stages. He looked up with teary red eyes as Spain lifted the trophy.

Sergio Ramos and Xavi already had threatened Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon's goal when Spain took the lead in the 14th minute.

Andres Iniesta's incisive forward pass to find Cesc Fabregas was superb. Fabregas drifted behind defender Giorgio Chiellini and surged to the byline, drawing Buffon to his near post. Silva waited eight yards out to head a crisp chip back from Fabregas into the net.

Spain then increased its lead just 4 minutes before the break, in a move started by Xavi who had been below his usual high standard at Euro 2012.

"I was lacking that deep, incisive pass, and today I had two," said the Barcelona midfielder, who put a weighted pass into Alba's stride as the left-back burst past four Italian defenders to slip his shot past Buffon.

The great Italian goalkeeper also witnessed a master class from his friend Casillas, who was on a winning Spanish side for the 100th time.

Casillas has not conceded a goal in a knockout match since Zinedine Zidane scored for France in the 3-1 win that knocked Spain out of the 2006 World Cup in the second round.

At 1-0, Casillas twice stretched to tip crossed balls to safety, as Daniele De Rossi and then Mario Balotelli seemed poised to head balls goalwards. He also saved two shots from Antonio Cassano before Alba's goal put Spain into its comfort zone.

Italian substitute Antonio Di Natale -- who scored the only goal Spain conceded here, in a 1-1 draw to open its Group C campaign -- quickly forced Casillas into a double save when released into space by Pirlo's clever pass.

However, Motta lasted just a few minutes before he appeared to pull his right hamstring and left in obvious pain.

Spain cruised through the second half, to cries of "Ole" from its fans, before inflicting further agony on Italy.

Xavi found Torres, who slid his shot past Buffon and inside the far post in the 84th minute. Minutes later, Juan Mata came off the bench like Torres, and took his Chelsea teammate's pass to score into an Italian goal left unguarded by Buffon yet again. It was his first shot of the tournament, and Spain's final goal.

"Tonight, there was no contest, they were too superior -- so the bitterness at losing this final is only relative," Buffon said.

© Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Euro 2012 final: Spain overwhelms Italy, wins historic title

Euro 2012 final: Spain overwhelms Italy, wins historic title

By [ Washington Post ]
Spain staked its claim to the title of greatest team of all-time, winning its third consecutive international championship with an overwhelming 4-0 win over Italy in the Euro 2012 final. The anonymous Stats Inc. live commentator has all the details, here in excerpted form.

0’ — Spain are one game away from making history in the sport. No team has ever won back-to-back European Championships, and Spain know that not only can they break that record but they can also become the first team to win three consecutive major tournaments. This Spanish generation’s place in the annals of football history is already secure, but a win this evening would ensure that they go down as arguably the greatest ever national side.

0’ — There’s one change apiece for the teams, with Ignazio Abate coming in for Balzaretti at right-back for Italy and Cesc Fabregas picked as the false nine for Spain. We now know how Spain are going to play, but for Italy there is still some doubt. It's possible that they could use a back three with this group of players – we'll have to wait and see.

2’ — The ball falls to Andrea Pirlo on the edge of the area as Italy see plenty of the ball early on, but his shot is rushed and slices harmlessly wide.

9’ — Xavi finds himself in space on the edge of the area after another endless Spanish passing move, and Gianluigi Buffon is mightily relieved to see the midfielder's fizzing shot fly inches over the bar.

13’ — GOAL SPAIN! David Silva puts Spain 1-0 up in the final, and Italy have a mountain to climb now . . . It was classic football from the Spanish, expertly finished by David Silva. Alvaro Arbeloa’s perfectly weighted pass into the area from the right picked out the run of Cesc Fabregas, and the Barcelona man did brilliantly to hold off Giorgio Chiellini and cut a cross back onto the head of David Silva. He’s hardly the tallest man on the pitch, but it was a great header and left Gianluigi Buffon with no chance.

23’ — Cesare Prandelli will be concerned about what’s he’s seeing out there. Italy are looking shaky at the back and are struggling to keep the ball, while Spain are looking dangerously dominant for such an early stage in the game.

28’ — Italy break and Antonio Cassano works himself some space on the left of the area. Twisting and turning, he manages to get a shot away through two pairs of legs, but Iker Casillas keeps his eyes on the ball and makes a reasonably comfortable save.

40’ — GOAL SPAIN! Jordi Alba scores a fantastic second goal and Spain have one hand on their third straight major title! . . . There seemed little on as Spain meandered forward, but Jordi Alba had other ideas — making a lung-bursting run forward from left-back to give Xavi an option. The Barca maestro took his time, waited for the pass to be on and then slid a perfect ball through for his new club team-mate, who finished past Gianluigi Buffon with aplomb. 2-0!

45’ — HALFTIME: SPAIN 2, ITALY 0. The whistle goes to end a stunning first half display by Spain.

45’ — Lest we forget, Spain have not conceded a single goal in knockout games at a major tournament since 2006 — that’s a run of ten and a half matches against top quality opposition. Italy have threatened in patches, but for the Azzurri to score twice without conceding in this second half is a massive ask.

46’ — Italy get the second half underway and have made a change, replacing the exhausted Antonio Cassano with Antonio Di Natale. . . . Antonio Di Natale very nearly scores with his first touch! A cross into the Spain box is expertly met by the substitute ahead of Gerard Pique and it squeaks just over the bar.

48’ — The ball bounces up and clearly strikes Leonardo Bonucci on the arm in the box, but the referee waves play-on. The Spanish are furious about that, and you have to say that they’ve got a point.

50’ — Italy have come flying out of the blocks in this second half, and Antonio Di Natale goes close to pulling them back into the game. Picked out in the area, his drive is parried by Iker Casillas, but his follow-up flicked cross from a prone position on the floor can’t pick out a team-mate at the back post.

56’ — Cesare Prandelli makes his third and final change, bringing on Thiago Motta for Riccardo Montolivo in the centre of the park. That should freshen things up for Italy in there, and they are looking the better side at the moment. A goal in the next ten minutes would be perfect for the Azzurri and equally perfect for the final.

60’ — Italy have made their three changes, but Thiago Motta pulls up with a hamstring problem just minutes after coming on. You can’t blame the manager really, he had to change things up, but Italy are down to ten men in their hunt for two goals and it’s hard to see how there’s a way back for them now.

66’ — It will take something quite remarkable if Italy are to get back into this game, and the one team you don't want to be facing in this situation is Spain. Del Bosque’s side are stroking the ball around and pressing Italy back whenever the demoralised Azzurri do manage to get hold of possession.

70’ — They’re dead on their feet, and Italy are struggling to even get out of their own half, yet alone work it into Antonio Di Natale.

83’ — GOAL SPAIN! Fernando Torres scores the third goal to end any lingering hopes of an Italian revival and secure an historic win for Spain. . . . Spain are making history in Kiev, becoming the first team to win back-to-back European titles and the first to win three consecutive major tournaments. Not just that, but Fernando Torres has just scored made it two goals in two Euro finals, sliding the ball past Gianluigi Buffon after perfectly timing his run to get in behind the defence. It’s 3-0 and that’s well and truly game over.

87’ — GOAL SPAIN! This is turning into a rout, and its Juan Mata who grabs it just moments after coming onto the field for the first time in the tournament. 4-0!

90’ — FULL TIME: Spain 4, Italy 0. The final whistle goes as Spain cement their place in the record books with an astonishing 4-0 win in Kiev.

Belarus’ Lukashenko attends Euro 2012 final

Belarus’ Lukashenko attends Euro 2012 final

Belarus’ authoritarian president attended the final soccer match of the European Championship on Sunday along with top EU leaders, in an awkward move that would likely embarrass the Ukrainian co-hosts of the event.

The appearance of Alexander Lukashenko, who faces EU sanctions for cracking down on dissent in his country, would hardly be welcomed by the prime ministers of Spain and Italy, whose teams met in the final, and the leaders of co-host Poland.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is already under fire for the politically tainted jailing of his main political opponent, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. A number of top EU leaders are boycotting Euro 2012 matches in Ukraine, including Sunday’s final in Kiev, over her imprisonment, calling it an attempt to sideline a political rival.

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