|Spanish players celebrate after winning the Euro final in Kiev on Sunday. (AFP)
Too many football finals fall far below the level of expectation; they are dull, defensive, disappointing affairs decided by a single goal or a mistake.
This, thrillingly, cannot be said about Spain’s triumph in the 2012 European Championship final. A 4-0 demolition of the opposition leaves little room for argument. Spain hit their peak with perfect timing and left no room for doubt about their sovereignty.
Sympathy was due to beaten Italy who had both surprised and impressed up until their fateful appearance in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium; then, all of a sudden, everything went wrong all at once.
Hence, Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque presides, in his avuncular and understated fashion, over a squad of record-makers and a real team in the fullest sense.
Outsiders have seen the claws come out when Barcelona play Real Madrid and presume it impossible that such battle grounds can be abandoned so easily when the national team comes calling. In fact, as captain Iker Casillas and playmaker Xavi Hernandez once noted in conversation during Euro 2012, they have been playing together for Spain on all the rungs of the age-group ladder for far longer than they have been jousting in La Liga or the Champions League or the Copa del Rey.
Hearing them talk put me in mind of Morten Olsen’s comment back in the days when he was captain of an emergent Denmark. Olsen had said: “We are not only team-mates, we are mostly friends. And you run harder, work harder for your friends than people who are only your colleagues.”
Spain certainly run. Their movement frightened France boss Laurent Blanc into tactical and selection suicide; their movement so consumed Portugal into confrontation that Joao Moutinho & Co did not have the time to prepare enough bullets for Cristiano Ronaldo to fire; and, in the final, that natural mixture of pace and technique ripped the legs off an Italian side appeared worn to a semi-standstill merely from the effort of singing their national anthem.
Spain thus became the only nation ever to raise three major trophies in a row and the only nation to retain the European title. They equalled Germany’s record of three European titles; outstripped the 3-0 record margin by which West Germany beat the Soviet Union in the 1972 final; turned Del Bosque into the first manager to have the World Cup, the European Championship and the Champions League; saw Fernando Torres become the first player to score in two Euro finals; and also saw Torres and Chelsea club-mate Juan Mata join the handful of players to become a European champion at club and national team level in the same season (fellow Spaniard Luis Suarez was the first in 1964).
Italy thus ended the 2012 journey as they had begun it. Back in April 2007, they had finished a decisive second best to Poland and Ukraine in the vote among Uefa’s executive committee to decide tournament host; now they finished a decisive second best in the very last match.
Spain’s champions of 2008 had evolved into world champions in 2010 and have now been transformed, temporarily, into football immortals courtesy of those goals from David Silva and Jordi Alba in the first half, then from substitutes Torres and Mata in the second.
Temporarily is the word because, while the fireworks were still echoing over central Kiev, Spain’s players were being pressed on whether they would go on to win the World Cup again and make it four in a row. Del Bosque even volunteered at his post-match news conference that nothing stands still in football and there was a World Cup qualifying tournament ahead as well as the Confederations Cup in Brazil next June.
Andy Roxburgh, the former Scotland coach, headed an 11-strong technical team which monitored each game and studied trends and developments evident from the finals.
Above all, Roxburgh was struck — and not for the first time — by the way in which Spain had brought to winning fruition once more all the years of hard work invested in youth football and in the education of young players.
He told me: “If you think of Euro 2012 as having been a cake, this tournament here gave us lots of icing and then a final like that was a cherry on top of the cake itself.”
Long may the taste linger.