Spain saved their best until last at UEFA EURO 2012, a final-record 4-0 victory in Kyiv completing an unprecedented hat-trick of major tournament wins.
Against a flagging Italy side whose thrilling knockout campaign looked to have caught up with them, Spain were in control from the moment David Silva broke the deadlock with a rare header on 14 minutes. A barnstorming second with half-time approaching from the indefatigable Jordi Alba, his first international goal, left the Azzurri with a mountain to climb. The sight of Thiago Motta, their third substitute, being carried off on a stretcher ended all hope, causing Italy to play out the last 28 minutes with ten men – and Spain replacements Fernando Torres and Juan Mata fully capitalised.
This was billed as a meeting of great creative minds, of conductors in their prime, of Xavi Hernández against Andrea Pirlo; but for much of the opening phase it was a one-man show. Spain's No8 picked up the baton from the off, in harmony with Andrés Iniesta, dictating La Roja's now familiar staccato movement as Italy were forced deeper and deeper. The olés had already begun among the sizeable Spanish contingent in the 63,170 crowd when, just before the quarter-hour, the pair combined to devastating effect.
Xavi, who had fired narrowly over moments earlier, fed Iniesta and his finely weighted pass allowed Cesc Fàbregas to easily outstrip Giorgio Chiellini on the inside-right channel. There was still plenty to do but how simple Spain made it look as Fàbregas pulled a sharp ball back for Silva, all 170cm of him, to glance his header in. It proved a disappointed Chiellini's last real action as he soon succumbed to the thigh problem that has hampered him throughout his time in Poland and Ukraine.
A heavy-legged Italy could ill afford the double blow, but impressively they fought their way back into the contest. Pirlo, inevitably, was their driving force, the beating drum that pulled the strings at the back and sounded the horn to attack. Not that there was much of that. In fact, Pirlo's most telling contribution of the first half was a superb last-ditch block on Iniesta. Yet try as he might – and he did try – the 33-year-old could not be everywhere.
Spain's second was a little too easy, though. Standing on the touchline near halfway, Fàbregas nodded Iker Casillas's clearance to Alba who turned the ball into Xavi before haring forward. The Azzurri back line did not seem to notice but the erudite Xavi did, advancing forward before slotting his new FC Barcelona club-mate in. The composed left-footed finish that followed would have pleased even the injured David Villa, watching in the stands with Carles Puyol.
If it appeared that nothing could now deny Spain a first competitive victory against the Azzurri in 92 years – at least over 90 minutes – but Italy were not done yet. Antonio Di Natale, scorer in the 1-1 group stage draw between these sides three weeks ago, came on for Antonio Cassano and within six minutes he might have scored twice. His first chance, a header, was far from straightforward, but the striker could have done better when Riccardo Montolivo's pass found him in space. He snatched at the opportunity and the advancing Casillas blocked.
Yet Italy's slender hopes of mounting a comeback disappeared when Motta departed forlornly down the tunnel. It was left to Xavi to resume his conducting, slowing things down until, with six minutes remaining, he upped the tempo for a rousing crescendo. First he robbed Pirlo in midfield and set up Torres for a goal to add to his strike in the UEFA EURO 2008 final – a 'double' no one had managed before – then he combined with Torres to release Mata, just on, to seal an emphatic win. It has been an emphatic four years.
©UEFA.com 1998-2011. All rights reserved.