NEWS
Sunday July 1 2012
Four-star Spain end Italian dream

A drained Italy’s dream ended at the final hurdle, as Spain retained their European title 4-0, though the Azzurri were down to 10 men for the last half-hour. Giorgio Chiellini and Thiago Motta both went off with injuries, the latter after the substitutions had been completed.

These sides started the tournament facing each other in a 1-1 draw on June 10 and Antonio Di Natale was the only man able to score against Spain. At the time, the Azzurri fielded a 3-5-2 formation, but Cesare Prandelli has confirmed the rotating diamond midfield that proved so effective in the knockouts with England and Germany. Ignazio Abate shook off an injury to replace Federico Balzaretti at right-back. Spain had the same line-up as in Gdansk with Cesc Fabregas as a ‘False 9.’

The Spanish team had complained the pitch was “too dry” in that first game, so it was watered just over an hour before kick-off. Vicente Del Bosque’s men had the chance to make history as the first ever side to win three major international trophies in a row, but hadn’t beaten Italy in a competitive match over 90 minutes since 1920. They did secure a victory on penalties in Euro 2008 after the quarter-final ended 0-0.

Andrea Pirlo drilled well wide and Sergio Ramos turned a free kick far and free header over in the opening minutes.

Spain had one of their typical long passing moves that finished with Xavi Hernandez blasting just over the bar from the edge of the box.

The pressure paid off and Fabregas got to the by-line past Giorgio Chiellini, pulling a cross back to the far post where David Silva was ready to nod in undisturbed. Chiellini looked very slow in that left-back role and Fabregas feinted a shot to draw out Gigi Buffon only to pull back. It was the first time Italy had been trailing in Euro 2012.

Moments later a Pirlo free kick was deflected over the bar and from that corner Iker Casillas fingertipped it off the head of Daniele De Rossi. Another corner was knocked down by Andrea Barzagli and put behind by Sergio Ramos.

Pirlo needed a splendid tackle to stop Andres Iniesta in the box, but Chiellini limped off with a recurrence of that muscular problem, making way for Balzaretti.

Gerard Pique was booked for a two-footed takcle on Antonio Cassano, while Casillas flapped a Balzaretti cross off the head of Balotelli. There was a dangerous counter-attack that finished with Cassano firing straight at his former Real Madrid teammate Casillas.

Pirlo threaded through for Cassano, who spun round and unleashed a fierce strike to sting Casillas’ palms on 32 minutes.

Barzagli did well to intercept a dangerous through ball and Balotelli blasted well over from distance.

However, Spain found the crucial Xavi through ball and Jordi Alba burst through the middle to go clear on goal, drilling past a helpless Buffon from 14 yards.

Riccardo Montolivo’s screamer was palmed away by Casillas just before the break, but Barzagli was booked for bringing down Iniesta on the counter.

Di Natale replaced Cassano for the second half and within a minute he had turned a header just over the bar. Fabregas drilled inches wide of the near stick and a combination of Buffon and Abate had to clear from Fabregas from six yards.

Ramos went with a diving header that hit Leonardo Bonucci on the hand, but it was from point-blank range and the linesman waved played on.

Di Natale threatened again when he sprung the offside trap, forcing Casillas into a desperate double save from close range as the goalkeeper rushed off his line to narrow the angle, then grabbed the chipped follow-up.

Fabregas was sent clear by another through ball, but fortunately for the Azzurri his first touch let him down.

Italy’s third substitution was Thiago Motta for Montolivo, while Pedro Rodriguez replaced Silva and Balotelli hit another fierce drive high and wide.

Cesare Prandelli was stunned, as four minutes after coming on as the final substitute, Thiago Motta pulled up with a suspected thigh strain. With no further changes available, Italy had to play with 10 men for the last half-hour of the match.

Balzaretti intercepted a dangerous cross for Pedro Rodriguez, but the fatigue of the competition and having only two days to prepare for this Final took its toll further with Abate limping too.

Pedro Rodriguez drilled wide on the counter, but was clearly offside anyway. With 11 minutes to go, Balzaretti also picked up a knock and was limping heavily, then Bonucci had cramp.

With Italy staggering around the pitch with 10 men, Fernando Torres completed the scoring by running on to a through ball on the counter and side-footing it across the on-rushing Buffon into the far bottom corner.

Spain did not lessen the pressure despite playing against 10 men and a through ball saw Torres spring the offside trap to draw out Buffon, then roll across for substitute Juan Mata to tap into the empty net.

Sergio Ramos attempted a backheel flick in stoppages, but it didn't fool Buffon.

Spain 4-0 Italy

Scorers: Silva 14 (S), Jordi Alba 41 (S), Torres 84 (S), Mata 88 (S)

Spain: Casillas; Arbeloa, Piqué, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso; David Silva (Pedro Rodriguez 58), Fabregas (Torres 75), Iniesta (Mata 86)

Italy: Buffon; Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini (Balzaretti 21); Marchisio, Pirlo, De Rossi; Montolivo (Montolivo 56); Balotelli, Cassano (Di Natale 46)

Ref: Proença (Por)

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