Spain has done it, they have achieved it and what’s more it was a big job accomplished in a great manner. The Spanish national team became last night the only national team to win three major tournaments in a row: two European Cups (2008 and 2012) and a World Cup in between (2010). Without a doubt this is something which is difficult to reach by many and began with a great historic achievement led by Luis Aragones four years ago and reaching even greater heights with Vicente Del Bosque. Del Bosque, originally from Salamanca, deserves a unique mention as he has become the most distinguished coach in football history after winning two European titles and a World Cup both with a club and a national team. It is because of this and our friendship that has joined us for so many years, I would like to congratulate the national team and everyone who work with them and, especially, I would like to send my congratulations to the technical staff. Congratulations Vicente, Toni, Javi, Paco, Otxo... and the rest of the staff who have been working so hard to achieve this even greater feat.
Now that I have been able to express my personal congratulations, let’s look at the game. Spain started with a 1-4-3-3 formation, with Cesc Fabregas as a centre forward and the midfielders continuously exchanging positions, with Alonso and Busquets playing quite often as holding midfielders. For their part, Italy displayed their classical 1-4-3-1-2 with a diamond shape in the middle. Spain controlled the game and attacked from the beginning whilst Italy pressed. However Del Bosque’s men managed the situation well. Andres Iniesta, who was extraordinary once again, was the one who changed the pace and looked for profundity. In the defensive phase, Pirlo was effectively closed down by Fabregas while the midfielders were very focussed on stopping the Italian centre backs’ penetrating passes to Cassano and Balotelli. It was clear after the initial minutes that Prandelli’s plan was to regain the ball as soon as possible and play long balls to the strikers in an attempt to surprise the Spanish. And all this with a key factor: velocity.
Having said this, before the first fifteen minutes of the game the set up changed radically as Spain scored their first goal in the 14th minute. Iniesta played a penetrating pass to Fabregas, who delivered a perfect cross for David Silva to head the ball to the back of the net in a beautiful play. Spain had the game where they wanted whilst Italy’s plans were coming apart.
The 1-0 for Spain shook the Italians, who intensified their pressing and got closer to Casillas’ goal with some free kicks and corners delivered by Pirlo. But they were not too effective and, to the contrary, Spain hit back regaining the ball and launching dangerous counter attacks. Problems mounted for Italy in the 21st minute when Chiellini got injured, being replaced by Balzaretti. This change didn’t affect their system and Balzaretti, as Chiellini did, kept going forward and playing wide but without becoming a real threat for Iker Casillas.
In the 24th minute Italy changed their shape dropping De Rossi’s position so he could help under pressure Pirlo to build the play. But De Rossi’s long balls to the strikers were constantly intercepted by the Spanish midfield and defence. On top of this, every time the Italians had a chance, Casillas was there to stop them from scoring evidencing quality and keeping Spain’s goal in safe hands.
Ultimately, Spain was in control of the game and the presence of Iniesta, Silva, Fabregas and especially Xavi around the Italians’ box became a threat; it seemed that the scoreboard could change before the end of the first half. And it did. Eventually, in the 41st minute, Jordi Alba scored his first goal as a national team player and the second of the night for Spain when he was left alone in front of Buffon after an accurate penetrating pass by Xavi. Italy weren’t able to stop Spain and headed to the dressing room at half time knowing that some changes would need to be made.
In the face of this, Italy’s problems continued to grow in the second half. Initially, Di Natale came in for Cassano in an attempt to give more mobility and profundity to the Italian attack. That substitution seemed to prove right when just after a minute on the pitch Di Natale was very close to scoring after finishing a cross delivered by Abate. Just a bit later Di Natale saw his close range shot extraordinarily saved by Casillas. But Spain was solid and hit back again with very dangerous attacks carried out by Fabregas and Silva.
In the midfield Alonso and Busquets were frequently playing at the same level trying to stop the Italians’ penetrating passes so the Spanish shape looked more a 1-4-2-3-1 than a 1-4-3-3.
In attack, during this second half Del Bosque’s side kept comfortable on the ball, with Iniesta and Xavi finding Silva and Fabregas quite often, giving always the impression of control and danger. In the 56th minute Italy made its third and last substitution, with Motta replacing Montolivo and maintaining the same diamond shape. Minutes later Motta got injured and Italy was left with ten men on the pitch, making the difficult task of beating Spain almost impossible.
Italy needed to go forward and score to try to have at last a chance in the game, and Del Bosque decided to give more profundity to his team substituting Silva for Pedro in the 59th minute. Spain took advantage of Italy’s numeric inferiority and started to more effectively press while their full backs, Arbeloa and Jordi Alba, kept going forward giving width to the Spanish attack.
In the 75th minute Fernando Torres replaced Fabregas. Another important change as Fernando, with one of his usual movements, faced Buffon in a 1 v 1 situation to score the third goal for Spain and to ensure the prize as top scorer of the tournament (he succeeded in the draw alongside other players as the number of total assists and minutes needed to score a goal were counted). My congratulations to Fernando for this achievement.
Back to the game, in the 87th minute Del Bosque made the last substitution, Iniesta (who was probably the best player of the tournament) was replaced by Mata. Then once again Xavi found Torres behind the defenders, who passed the ball to his Chelsea team mate Mata to score the fourth goal.
With that goal Spain completed a great game and in the end, a great tournament with a historic win that takes them to the very top of the national teams ranking in a well deserved manner. We sign off this article just as we started, with our sincere congratulations to Del Bosque, his technical staff, the players, the directors, the fans... Congratulations Spain.