Great teams defy characterization, easy stereotypes, and rise to a challenge. Spain did all of this today erasing their often derided and poorly understood tiki taka with a display, fans of any stripe, race, religion, or nationality would recognize and acknowledge as magisterial.
Spain did this without playing any recognizable formation as Vincent Del Bosque made a mockery of conventional number 9's. Italy would have liked nothing better than the result they forced out of Spain in their opening group match and gone to penalties but Spain almost from the first minute showed that they were willing to risk playing open ended football. In fact, Italy had the lion's share of the football but it was Spain who showed what they could do when they had possession at every opportunity looking to go forward especially with Iniesta down the left channel. There were few reminders of the soporific tippy tappy laterals and backpasses. Just when it looked Spain could miss an actual no 9, Iniesta split open the Italian defense with a surgical stroke which ended with David Silva scoring a cracking header off Cesc Fabregas's lovely dink.
That goal led to an uncharacteristic sloppy spell of passing for about 15 minutes as the Italians came back and controlled the match. Spain were fortunate as they faded that Andrea Pirlo, the peerless one was not at his sharpest, with a couple of uncharacteristically mistimed passes and free kicks. They were also fortunate that Giorgio Chiellini had to leave with a knee injury, replaced by Federico Balzaretti. Spain again got back in rhythm and in the 41st minute, came a goal that should be investigated by Mulder and Scully. How on earth did Jordi Alba sprint unchecked 40 yards out of thin air and then receive a pass from Xavi that threaded the needle between three defenders right at his feet? A touch, a look forward, and then an exquisite curling finish with his left foot past Buffon. What a find this fellow has been and he's going to Barca after this. The cup runneth over.
The Italians looked like they had been hit with a collective haymaker while film makers will scramble to make a Minority Report sequel for this spectacular bit of pre-cognition.
The game was already over or was it? Teams that have scored first have gone onto win 10 out of the thirteen finals. Italy did come back into the second half with renewed verve as Antonio Di Natale with his first touch, a header that just sailed over, and then minutes later smashed in a shot from about 10 yards out which Casillas just about fended off and was fortunate to pluck out Di Natale's follow up chip as it ballooned over. At the other end, Spain were also having plenty of ball at the other end with Andres Iniesta, the MVP of this Euro and Fabregas causing all kinds of problems to the makeshift Italian defense. They were doomed once again as Thiago Motta introduced in the 57th minute lasted about four minutes and had to be stretchered off.
Italy played down a man for the next half hour and increasingly looked stretched and worn down. It was a matter of time Spain would pick their pocket this time Fernando Torres showing glimpses of the old version checking in with a goal as Xavi provided pin point service yet again. It was all over and Del Bosque brought out the supporting cast with Juan Mata making his first appearance in this Euro and getting rewarded with Spain's last goal after Torres drew out Buffon and in a sign of his rehabilitation smartly laid a pass for Mata to score Spain's final goal.
The 4-0 margin broke Germany's victory over USSR by a goal in the 1972 final. Spain marched on to become the first team in history to win three major competitions in a row. And Fernando Torres became the first striker to score in two finals and in a delicious bit of irony also became the Golden Boot winner for his three goals and an assist edging out Mario Gomez because of fewer minutes played.
Italy, the second best team, did not deserve to lose this way. They had the more compelling story. Beaten and battered two years ago at the World Cup, escaping a morale sapping match fixing scandal at home, restituting Pirlo a la Severus Snape as magician, and in Cassano and Balotelli; two bad boy strikers, one with heart problems, the other defying skin colour and racial baggage to become Italy's new hope. No one had given them any chance to make it this far but they did. They deserve plenty of praise.
Are Spain the greatest team in the history of the sport? The 1970s Brazil squad will have something to say about that but there is very little doubt as a team, Spain have few parallels. This is as good a football performance from a collective we can hope to seen in a lifetime. The mind boggling part to contemplate depending on whether you love or hate them? They look good for another three titles given that country's extra-ordinary level of talent.