Euro 2012: Reliving Spain's Road to Glory in Poland and Ukraine

Michael CummingsWorld Football Lead WriterJuly 1, 2012

Euro 2012: Reliving Spain's Road to Glory in Poland and Ukraine

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    After six matches, 12 goals and an epic streak of defensive dominance, Spain are the champions of Europe once more.

    Spain defeated Italy, 4-0, in Kiev on Sunday in the Euro 2012 final, clinching their second straight Euro title and third overall. La Roja have now won three straight major international tournaments, a feat no other team has ever matched.

    Along the way, Spain outscored their opponents 12-1 and kept opponents scoreless for more than 500 minutes.

    Read on to relive Spain's run to the Euro 2012 title.

Cesc to the Rescue

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    Spain and Italy opened their Group C campaigns with a 1-1 draw in Gdansk, Poland, on June 10. Italy's Antonio Di Natale scored the opener in the 61st minute, and Cesc Fabregas equalized for Spain three minutes later.

    Fernando Torres replaced Fabregas in the 74th minute and sparked the Spanish attack. But El Niño missed two chances late in the match that would have given Spain a comeback victory.

    The match was also notable for Spain manager Vicente del Bosque's experimental formation. Described alternately as a 4-3-3 or a 4-6-0, his starting XI lacked a recognized striker and included six midfielders.

    Italy responded with a three-man backline that included midfielder Daniele De Rossi. The Azzurri matched Spain in the first half and deserved to take the lead midway through the second.

Irresistible El Niño

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    Spain's second match was not nearly as tense—or as tight.

    Fernando Torres—drafted into the starting XI in place of Cesc Fabregas—scored in the fourth minute, and Spain cruised to a 4-0 victory in Gdansk.

    David Silva doubled Spain's lead in the 49th minute with a well-placed side-foot pass into the net. Torres made it three in the 70th minute, and Fabregas added Spain's fourth 13 minutes later.

Jesus Saves

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    Drama reigned in Gdansk as Spain sweated out a tense 1-0 victory over Croatia in the Group C finale.

    A 2-2 draw between Spain and Croatia would send both teams through to the quarterfinals at the expense of Italy, who were playing Ireland simultaneously.

    But both teams went for the win, and a superb save by Iker Casillas kept out Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic's powerful second-half header. Without Casillas' save, Spain could have been eliminated early with a loss.

    Instead, substitute Jesus Navas served as Spain's savior, scoring an 88th-minute winner.

    A draw would have sent Spain to the quarterfinals as well.

French Capitulation

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    After winning Group C with seven points, Spain sailed through the quarterfinals with an easy 2-0 win over France in Donetsk, Ukraine.

    La Roja lulled France to sleep with precision passing, and midfielder Xabi Alonso—making his 100th international appearance—scored a rare brace to serve as the match-winner.

    The opener came in the 19th minute, when Alonso stooped to meet Jordi Alba's cross with a pinpoint header to the far post. His second was a penalty in second-half stoppage time.

Cesc to the Rescue, Part 2

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    Iberian rivals Portugal awaited in the semifinals, and the match ended in a dramatic shootout in Donetsk.

    Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo had a chance to win it at the end of regular time, but his sliced shot flew well wide of the bar after a quick Portugal counter-attack.

    Spain grew in stature in extra time and nearly scored a late winner through Andres Iniesta in the 103rd minute, but instead, the match finished scoreless and went to spot-kicks.

    Xabi Alonso started the shootout for Spain and saw his shot saved, but the next four players scored, including Sergio Ramos with a Panenka.

    João Moutinho missed with Portugal's first kick, and Bruno Alves—after being called back by Nani in the previous round—gave Spain the advantage with another miss.

    Cesc Fabregas converted the decisive penalty in the next round, and Cristiano Ronaldo—who was scheduled to go fifth—never got to take a spot-kick.

    Afterwards, Fabregas said he'd had a "premonition" about scoring the winning penalty (via Sky Sports).

Coronation

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    After showing clear signs of fatigue against Portugal in the semifinals, Spain started quickly against Italy in the final and scored in the 14th minute.

    David Silva finished off Cesc Fabregas' cross with a header—the 22nd of the tournament—and La Roja were on their way to a historic blowout win in Kiev.

    Jordi Alba doubled Spain's advantage in the 41st minute, running onto an inch-perfect through-ball by Xavi. Substitute Fernando Torres made it three in the 84th minute, and Juan Mata—who was making his tournament debut in a cameo role—completed the rout four minutes later.

    With his goal and assist, Torres claimed Euro 2012's Golden Boot award for the tournament's top scorer. He finished with three goals and one assist, the same as Germany's Mario Gomez. But Torres spent less time on the pitch than Gomez.

    Spain, meanwhile, claimed their third straight major international tournament title. No other team has ever done that.