Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Conquistadors score hat trick

Spanish win third straight major title by crushing Italy

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KIEV, Ukraine -- Spain swept to a majestic 4-0 victory over Italy in the European Championship final on Sunday, retaining its title and extending its reign as the best team in world football.

After critics had called this Spain team boring at Euro 2012, the most one-sided final in the tournament's history was a perfect response.

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

Italy's task was tough enough with 11 players, and it became impossible with just 10 after the 64th minute. All its substitutes were used when midfielder Thiago Motta, who had only been on the pitch for seven minutes, was taken off due to injury.

"We respect (Italy) very much. They were a great rival, but we took control of the game as time went by," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said.

The victory lifted Spain to a record third straight major title, after winning Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. The hat trick of titles is an unprecedented feat for a European team, as is successfully defending the championship.

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

"Tonight, there was no contest, they were too superior -- so the bitterness at losing this final is only relative," Italy's captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said.

His Spanish counterpart as keeper and skipper, Iker Casillas, also was outstanding in keeping Italy's attack at bay for his 10th consecutive clean sheet in tournament knockout matches.

The victory was the most comprehensive in a European Championship final, beating West Germany's 3-0 win over the Soviet Union in 1972.

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

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

"You could tell right away that they were fresher physically," said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, whose team played in the semifinals on Thursday, one day after Spain.

"We didn't have time to recuperate, especially against players like these. It became very, very difficult indeed to come back from 2-0 down."

Italy playmaker Andrea Pirlo could not orchestrate play like he had when Germany and England were eliminated. Pirlo looked up with teary red eyes as Spain lifted the trophy.

When the final whistle was blown, Spain's players rushed to each other and huddled in a circle, jumping and spinning in celebration. Of course, they did it deep in Italy's half.

Sergio Ramos and Xavi Hernandez had already 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 metres out to head a crisp chip back from Fabregas into the net.

Spain then increased its lead just four minutes before the break.

Hernandez had been below his usual high standard at Euro 2012, but he put a weighted pass into Alba's stride as the left-back burst past four Italian defenders to slip his shot past Buffon.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2012 C4

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