1 July 2012

Espana: numero uno.

Iker Casillas: "We've been here before, haven't we?"
Spain are the European champions for the third time after their astounding 4-0 win over Italy in the UEFA Euro 2012 Final.

Goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and lastly Juan Mata gave the Spaniards a hat-trick of international trophies - an unprecedented achievement that puts them in the bracket of world football's greatest ever teams.

Much criticism has been directed at La Furia Roja's tiki-taka style of play, which was at its deadliest at UEFA Euro 2008 but this year has even been described as boring. Truth be told, Spain did not perform particularly well in four of their first five matches. But the very best teams get results without being outstanding. The greatest teams save their very best performances until the very last game.

Statistically, Spain were even better this year than at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where they ground out 1-0 wins in the knockout stages. Their goals scored to goals conceded tally for Euro 2012 was an impressive 12-1 in six matches (compared to 8-2 in seven matches at the 2010 Worlds).

The manner in which the Spanish despatched Italy in the Final is comparable only to Brazil's 1970 World Cup winners, who blitzed the Azzurri 4-1. This was a team playing out of its skin against another world-class side.

Vicente del Bosque took a risk by not fielding a natural centre-forward in the final, but the Spanish are so chock-full of attacking talent that they are the only team in the world that don't really need a striker. When del Bosque did bring on a striker, Torres scored the third goal and created the fourth. The Chelsea man showed great teamwork in snubbing the chance to win the Golden Boot outright by setting up club team-mate Mata instead. In the end, Torres did get the Golden Boot on a tie-break, and rightly so.

After the final whistle blew, there was a nice touch to the Spanish celebrations, as the players' kids came onto the pitch to join their dads' party. Another emotional moment saw a couple of the players wearing T-shirts in tribute to the late former Liverpool and Real Betis defender Miki Roqué, echoing memories of 2010 when they honoured the similarly tragic Dani Jarque.

At the start of the European Championship, many people (myself included) thought that Germany's exciting team would take the trophy and kick-start their dominance of the world game. But with two Euros and one World Cup under their belts, we have to admit that Spain are still top dogs.

Congratulations to del Bosque's men on a fine win, but now attention turns to Brazil, where in just 711 days time, the 2014 FIFA World Cup will get underway. If Spain could lift yet another trophy in Rio de Janeiro - the stomping ground of Pelé, Rivelino, Jairzinho et al - there would be no doubt that they are the greatest team EVER.

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