16 Conclusions On Spain 4 Italy 0

Forget the subjective debate about whether Spain are boring to watch, and simply appreciate their achievements. Be grateful you were around to watch this great side...

Last Updated: 02/07/12 at 00:07 Post Comment

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* So, the best ever? I touched on this after their semi-final win over Portugal, but it's worth saying again. Spain have to be ranked at least level to the Brazil side of 1970, not least because like that side, they could move to another level in the final of a tournament. Like Brazil, they put four past Italy, and were totally dominant. Let us forget the debate about whether you find their style of play tedious, for such a thing is as subjective and individual as humour or beauty. Just admire their achievements, and be grateful you were around to watch this incredible side.

* An indication of how routine this sort of success is for Spain could be seen after Fernando Torres's goal. Vicente del Bosque didn't even rise from his seat in celebration, clenching his fist and politely applauding as if a goal in the final of the European Championships was the most natural and normal thing in the world.

* Oh, and let's not forget that they did this without Carles Puyol and David Villa. Quite extraordinary.

* One reason Del Bosque decided to go with this 'strikerless' system could be seen in three of Spain's four goals, it's simply that a run from deep is often more difficult to pick up and negate than one from a traditional centre forward. Three of Spain's goals came from such runs, in space that might not have been created with a standard static forward. It's obviously not the only way to play, but it is a perfectly acceptable attacking strategy. Those who still believe that a team without a traditional striker is inherently negative (and remarkably, there are people still out there, and some of them work for national newspapers) do not seem to understand football very well.

* I wrote after the group stage that Spain were not penetrative enough these days, that in the past they used their passing to create space and pull apart the opposition, but that quality appeared to have disappeared. I am more than happy to have been proved wrong after this masterclass. They were rapid, incisive, not just passing for passing's sake and moved the ball around in order to pick Italy apart, slice by magnificent slice. They hunted in packs, shifting the ball around until it was time for that killer pass, the one to slice open the Italian defence and beat them. Their performance in the final was not evidence against those who said they were boring before, because they played in a different way in this game than in previous matches. I wrote that this Spain side had lost their aura - well, if they had, they've got it back again now.

* There was a new energy to Spain. They seemed sharper than previous games in the tournament, more aware of where the spaces were in the Italy defence, and more efficient with their possession. It was almost as if they were hustling the rest of the tournament in the previous rounds, making everyone think they were on the way out, before shifting into the required gear almost at will to prove that theory wrong.

* However, there was a spell in the first half when it could have been rather different. From about the 20th minute, Italy attacked Spain as Portugal did in the first half of their semi-final, worrying them on a number of occasions and requiring a few desperate swipes of Iker Casillas's glove to thwart the danger. Spain even started giving the ball away rather carelessly in this spell, and it looked like the Italians were going to draw level and get back into the game.

* Of course, that was when the old football cliché of scoring at the right time came in. Just as it looked like Italy were gaining traction, even scaring Spain, Jordi Alba made that astonishing, Roadrunner-style burst (meep-meeping while doing so, presumably) through the Italian defence and slapping down the recovery before it had chance to really come good.

* In that moment, Alba did what England could not in the quarter-final. There had been much talk about the relative lack of pace in the Italian central defensive partnership of Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli before that game, but nobody in Roy Hodgson's side could exploit that. Alba, it's quite fair to say, did so rather emphatically.

* On a related point, one has to feel for Federico Balzaretti. Dropped from the starting line-up after putting in a terrific, out-of-position shift against Germany, Cesare Prandelli stuck with Giorgio Chiellini, a perfectly able left-back but more recognised as a centre-back, on the flank of the defence. It seemed odd then, that having directed many of Italy's initial attacks down the Spanish right in an effort to get at Alvaro Arbeloa, the closest thing this Spain side has to a weak link, that the more naturally attacking option of Balzaretti was not selected at left-back.

* Spain don't alter their formations specifically to combat the opposition, but it doesn't take a tactical genius to see that playing Cesc Fabregas in the false nine position (sorry, for everyone bored with such talk), alongside David Silva and Andreas Iniesta, by definition makes Andrea Pirlo's job much more difficult. He simply didn't have the space to do what he usually does, and certainly not the acres afforded by England in the quarter-final. Compare and contrast some stats - in the final he attempted 57 passes, 84% of which found their target, whereas in the semi he completed 94% of 66 passes.

* A word on Mario Balotelli's performance. One feared for the striker during the first half, because not a great deal he tried came off, from long range shots, to headers and attempted slipped passes - it all appeared to go awry, and when combined with the odd subtle attempt at a wind-up from Sergio Ramos, a violent moment of petulance seemed almost inevitable. However, no such moment came, and for much of the remainder of the match his work rate was exceptional, chasing down apparent lost causes, especially when they were reduced to ten men. Proof that Balotelli is so unpredictable, you can't even predict what form his unpredictability will take. Or something.

* It's hardly an obscure tale (even Alan Shearer had heard it, as he was desperate to make clear before the game), but really not enough has been made this tournament of how extraordinary Antonio Cassano's appearance in this final was. In October, he suffered a stroke. A stroke. And he played in the final of Euro 2012 eight months later. Utterly extraordinary.

* I confess I didn't go for this option, but BBC viewers were able to watch the game with alternative commentaries from some rather over-excitable CeeBeebies presenters. At one point, they apparently described their own service as "This is the commentary if you think Lawro is too much like Eeyore." Lovely stuff.

* By virtue of setting up Juan Mata's goal, Fernando Torres beat the five other players to have scored three goals over the tournament to win the golden boot. However, he was level with Alan Dzagoev and Mario Mandzukic, who last found the net in their respective second group games. Dzagoev's third came way back on the fifth day of the whole tournament.

* Relax. The Champions League starts on Tuesday. Football never really goes away.

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