KIEV (Reuters) - Majestic Spain took their place among the game’s greats by thrashing Italy 4-0 to retain their European title on Sunday, the biggest victory margin in a World Cup or Euro final - and all without a recognized striker.
Their success rewrote the tactical handbook and the record books after goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba and late substitutes Fernando Torres and Juan Mata gave the world champions an ultimately easy victory over an Italian team down to 10 men through injury for the last half-hour.
“It was a great match for our players, they controlled the game,” Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque told reporters.
“But there is not one football, the important thing is to score goals. We have strikers but we decided to play with players who went better with our style.”
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli added: “They made history and deservedly - they have a lot of players who are tried and tested at this level and even though they don’t play with a classic striker they certainly cause you plenty of problems.”
While Spain’s brilliant performance brought them a fully deserved success, what they achieved needs to be placed in some historical perspective, if only because their tiki-taka short-passing style has been criticized during the tournament.
Spain have become the first national side to win three major tournaments in the modern era after their Euro 2008 success and World Cup victory two years ago and have equaled Germany’s record of three European titles.
Sunday’s win also beat the victory margin Helmut Schoen’s West Germany side recorded for a Euro final with their 3-0 win over the Soviet Union in 1972.
Two years later Schoen led West Germany to a World Cup triumph, a unique double success for a coach until Del Bosque matched it on Sunday.
Torres became the first player to score in two Euro finals and, together with his Chelsea club mate and fellow scoring substitute Mata, became one of a handful of players to win the Champions League and European Championship in the same season.
Other records were eclipsed too as the Spaniards redefined what it takes to be successful at the elite level of the game in the modern age.
Starting without a recognized striker because David Villa was unfit for the tournament and Torres’s form has been erratic, Del Bosque put his faith in midfield magicians like Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and the uncompromising Sergio Busquets.
They created the chances for themselves and they knew how to take them too.
Spain’s second goal came from left back Jordi Alba, who burst through a static defense like a midfielder, picking up the ball from Xavi’s pass like Usain Bolt collecting a baton in a relay before slotting home.
Four-times world champions Italy were in danger of losing from as early as the 14th minute when Spain took the lead through a rare header from the diminutive Silva.
Italy responded before halftime with eight goal attempts but, when they went in trailing 2-0 at the break and with their striker Mario Balotelli having an off night, the task looked beyond them.
Their midfield playmaker Andrea Pirlo, so impressive in the earlier rounds, was also eclipsed and looked on in tears as Spain collected the trophy at the end.
Cruelly for Italy, their plight was not helped when their third substitute Thiago Motta limped off with a hamstring injury just four minutes after coming on, leaving them with just 10 men for the last 30 minutes.
Italy had more possession than Spain in the opening half but when they did have a sniff of goal, Iker Casillas maintained his astonishing record of not conceding a goal in the knockout stage of a tournament for the 10th successive match.
The Spain goalkeeper also reached another milestone with a record 100th win for his country.
The only other team to claim three successive major titles was Argentina who lifted the Copa America in 1945, 1946 and 1947 when the tournament was held annually.
However, that feat pales into insignificance compared to Spain’s achievement such is the pace and the demands of the modern game.
Somehow Spain have not only been able to cope with those demands but have risen way above them.
Editing by Ken Ferris