Spain reigns, Part Two

Spain finally delivered the masterful performance we have been waiting for in a commanding 4-0 victory over a good Italian side. With the win, Spain can claim to be the best European national team in history. No team has ever won back to back Euros, none has ever won back to back to back big national tournaments, and few have ever put on a better display in a Final than Spain did today. It felt like a privilege to watch.

Spain used the six in midfield, no true center forward set-up it has employed during much of the tournament. But they tweaked it today. David Silva and Fabregas played together up front, with the fabulous Iniesta dropping back to take on more of the play-making duties from his Barcelona teammate Xavi who hasn’t been at his best at the Euros. Xavi played deeper, along with Xabi Alonso and Busquets to shield the back line of defenders. This freed up the fullbacks to attack almost like wingers.

These tweaks gave Spain more fluidity and less predictability than their usual approach, in which there are usually three up front and one or two just behind, and the ball is passed back and forth. In today’s formation, the attacks materialized more quickly, often from further back, and we’re harder for the defense to pick up.

The first goal was the product of brilliant interplay between Silva and Fabregas. Italy paid a price for deploying Chiellini, an excellent center back, at the left back position. Fabregas took a fine pass from Silva, beat Chiellini’s challenge and found Silva on the return pass for the goal.

The second goal came on a great ball from Iniesta, I’m pretty sure, to Jordi Alba, the left back/winger, who made a wonderful run. Alba finished with aplomb and, just before half time, Spain was in control.

The match was effectively over at the hour mark, when Tiago Motta was carried off the field for Italy. The Italians had already used all three of their substitutes. Memo to soccer coaches: do not make that third substitution until the 75th minute at the earliest.

There was an interesting moment at the end. With Spain up 3-0, Fernando Torres, on as a sub, had a golden opportunity to score on a breakaway. A Torres goal would have put him alone as the top scorer at Euro 2012. But Torres laid the ball off to Mata, his Fellow sub and Chelsea teammate, who had an even easier shot, which he duly finished.

I understand that Torres will win the Golden Boot award for top scorer anyway on some sort of tiebreaker. But in the moment it was a true act of unselfishness for a goal getter like Torres, and one that bodes well for team unity at Chelsea this coming season.

So Euro 2012 has ended. The first round of matches was outstanding, but the knockout stage was a bit disappointing. In four years, the tournament will expand to 24 teams, which is ridiculous; there are only 12 to 15 good national teams in Europe at any given time. So this year’s Euros were probably better, taking the entire tournament into account, than any we will see again.

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