Spain vs. Italy: Scoring the Key Duels in Euro 2012 Final
Great teams just win. Sometimes their methods are criticized, sometimes they don't do it in the best way, but true winners always find ways to win.
Spain heard the criticism of their play in the quarterfinals and semifinals; all the pundits who labeled their incredible tiki-taka style as boring and tired after all these years.
Against a weary and overmatched Italy side, La Roja resoundingly silenced their critics and made history as the first team every to win three major tournaments in a row. And they played their best game of the tournament in doing so.
Going into the match, we knew that there would be a few key matchups that would decide the outcome, and Spain won them in style. Let's break down how the best national team ever assembled booked its place in football lore.
Iker Casillas vs. Gianluigi Buffon
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Going into the match, I would have made the case that Gigi Buffon had a better tournament than Iker Casillas, who was still an exceptional player for Spain, as always.
When the two best goalkeepers in the world faced each other for the second time, though, Casillas was at his absolute best when called upon, and Buffon was left helpless to prevent four goals from flying past him.
Whether Spain's unbelievable defensive record is attributable to a fantastic defence, that legendary possession game or the talents of Casillas himself is debatable, but to concede only one goal in the entire tournament is unbelievable.
Xavi vs. Andrea Pirlo
Claudio Villa/Getty Images
The battle between these two seasoned midfield maestros was always going to determine how possession would be split and whether Italy could create the chances that are so hard to come by against Spain.
Xavi and Pirlo tracked each other throughout the game, but the former locked down the latter and dictated the tempo for the Spanish, as he so often does.
Andres Iniesta was instrumental in pushing La Roja forward, but his more senior partner played an even bigger role in maintaining the incredibly aggressive possession game with which Spain dominated the Italians.
Mario Balotelli vs. Spain's Defence
Martin Rose/Getty Images
We might not have seen the crazy Mario Balotelli that often appears when he is not having a good game, but Super Mario was a shadow of the player that sunk Germany just a few days ago.
Marked closely by Sergio Ramos, Balotelli did not see nearly as much of the ball as he did against the Germans and was not in good position when he did receive it.
The single most threatening forward in the Italian arsenal could only hesitate and give the ball away with the few touches he had and only peeled off a couple poor shots. For this, Iker Casillas can consider himself very lucky.
Spain's Forwards vs. Italy's Center-Backs
Martin Rose/Getty Images
Perhaps it was the weary legs of the Italian defence. Or maybe Spain was simply too good. But for whatever reason, the nonstop runs of the Spanish forwards tore Italy apart all match.
Granted, it was much tougher for Italy after Thiago Motta's injury brought them down to 10 men, but it seemed as though the Azzurri were always one or two steps behind their opponents in the final third.
Spain's first and second goals are typical examples, and both came when Italy was at full strength. On the opener, the move happened so quickly that David Silva was able to fly into the penalty box unmarked to head home Cesc Fabregas' cross.
And on the second, which really sealed the match for Spain, Jordi Alba ran right through the criminally slow Italian defence and easily tapped home Xavi's marvelous through ball.
Spain vs. Themselves
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Spain are the best team to ever grace a football pitch. And when you are that insanely good, you can only be beaten by your own poor play.
After the end of normal time against Portugal, something clicked for the Spaniards. The team rightly decided that it needed to step up its level of play to be worthy of retaining their title as Europe's best team, and we saw La Roja bounce back in extra time of that match.
Versus Italy, Spain stepped it up to an even higher level.
At times, they were a bit sloppy and let the Italians get back into the game, but their passing, pressing and blinding movement was the best of the whole tournament; you won't hear any accusations of two-time defending champions playing boring keep-ball now.