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Spain routs Italy 4-0 for European title, unprecedented third straight major trophy

KIEV, Ukraine — Certainly the best in the world, and maybe the best ever. Definitely not boring.

Spain opened a fresh debate on its place in world soccer history after a majestic 4-0 victory over Italy in the European Championship final on Sunday.

For the third consecutive major tournament, Spain's outstanding goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas was there at the end to lift the trophy. After Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, Spain completed an unprecedented hat trick.

"To win three titles is almost impossible. Congratulations to the players," said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who followed Luis Aragones as coach after Euro 2008.

After a six-game tournament in which they surrendered just one goal, these Spaniards — who until four years ago were thought of as talented but perennial choke artists — are discussed in the same breath as the World Cup-winning 1970 Brazil team that is widely considered the greatest ever.

And this was the same Spanish team that critics had called boring at Euro 2012?

Spain emphatically shut down that discussion with the most one-sided Euro final ever.

No team has won a World Cup final by four, either. Three times the World Cup final has been won by three, twice by Pele's Brazil — one of which was that legendary '70 team that also made Italy its victim, 4-1.

"It was more difficult when people didn't believe in us," Spain playmaker Xavi Hernandez said. "The bar was very high, but they are nice challenges."

Facing Spain with 11 players is tough enough. Trying it with 10 for much of the second half is almost impossible. With all three substitutes used, Thiago Motta was injured and unable to continue after the 64th minute, and an exhausted Italian side limped through to the end.

"This was a great European Championship for us," Italian coach Cesare Prandelli said. "Really the only regret is that we didn't have a few extra days to recuperate. When we see the lights of the Kiev stadium from the airplane, it will be painful, but (today) we'll have a new outlook. We have shown that you can lose with dignity."

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

Mata's goal came on a feed from Torres, his teammate with European club champion Chelsea. Torres passed on his own chance at a second goal but still won the Golden Boot for the tourney's top goal scorer. He and Germany's Mario Gomez had three goals and an assist, but Torres held the next tiebreaker, fewest minutes played.

Spain allowed Italy the majority of first-half possession, yet its trademark quick passing game was lethal when required.

And when called into action, Casillas kept Italy's attack at bay.

"These years have been the best of my life," Casillas said after his 10th consecutive shutout in tournament knockout matches. "I hope it can be matched in the future, but it will be hard."

Critics said Spain had become tedious — keeping possession with endless back-and-forth passes to stifle games, not to win.

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

"Tonight, there was no contest, they were too superior — so the bitterness at losing this final is only relative," Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said.

The debate over which team history says "were too superior" still isn't settled. Spain could slam the door shut on the argument in the 2014 World Cup.

In Brazil.

Spain 4

Italy 0

.FAST FACTS

By the numbers

0 Wins by Spain over Italy in a competitive match (non-exhibitions) before Sunday.

1 Goals Spain allowed in the 2012 European Champion­ships, fewest ever.

2 Consecutive Euro finals in which Fernando Torres has scored, a first.

20 Game unbeaten streak for Spain in competitive matches.

27.5 Average age of Spain's starting 11.

62 Consecutive wins for Spain after scoring first.

509 Consecutive shutout minutes Spain played.

Spain routs Italy 4-0 for European title, unprecedented third straight major trophy 07/01/12 [Last modified: Sunday, July 1, 2012 11:16pm]
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