Spain soars into history books

Spain celebrates their Euro 2012 championship after defeating Italy at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev,...

Spain celebrates their Euro 2012 championship after defeating Italy at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, Ukraine, July 1, 2012. (EDDIE KEOGH/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:18 PM ET

KIEV - They might not be Pele's Brazil, Beckenbauer's Germany or Maradona's Argentina.

They might not be everyone's flavour of the week, often choosing to laterally ping-pong the ball back and forth to each other rather than push it up the field.

And, true, they might not always exhibit the flair and sizzle each and every night the purists of the Beautiful Game want to see.

But when the final whistle shrilled at Kiev's Olympic Stadium on an electric Ukrainian summer evening Sunday, the Spanish didn't need to be any of those things.

Because they are Euro 2012 champs.

And because they have now accomplished a feat no other national side has ever been able to do.

By completely dismantling a spunky, classy Italian side 4-0 in front of a capacity crowd of 65,000 in Kiev and an estimated television audience of 250 million viewers across the globe, the Spanish entered the history books by becoming the first squad to win three consecutive major international titles, adding Euro 2012 to their already impressive World Cup 2010 and Euro 2008 championships.

Maybe this will finally shut up the naysayers.

Maybe this will finally force them to give Spain the credit it deserves.

It was as if the Spanish players, sick and tired of being asked about their alleged "boring" tactics, lashed back at their legion of critics with flashes of brilliant skill inside the box that produced some highlight-reel goals.

And, in doing so, put themselves into the record books for going where no team has gone before.

"We're talking about a great generation of players," Spanish manager Vicente Del Bosque said. "They have roots in soccer. They play the game the way the game is meant to be played."

The greatest team of all time? Not going to go that far.

An informal poll of full-time European soccer scribes and broadcasters by QMI Agency during the second half of the final revealed that most figure Pele's 1970s Brazilian squad earns that honour, with this edition of Spain ranking somewhere in the top 10.

Having said that, Spain has shown an uncanny ability to rise to the occasion on the biggest stages against some of the top competition from around the globe.

At the 2008 Euros, the Spanish beat a German team that was continuing to develop its up-tempo style.

In South Africa two years ago, they out-grinded a highly-skilled, star-studded Dutch side that featured Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder performing at the top of their games.

And, on this particular evening, they overcame an upstart Italian side totally that had dismantled in the semifinal a German team that many prognosticators (including every one of them at QMI, except yours truly) picked to win it all in their pre-tournament selections.

For those few of us who gave the nod to Spain prior to the competition, the reason for favouring them was simple: These guys answer the bell whenever the brightest spotlight shines upon them.

If you need any more evidence of that, just watch a replay of Sunday's game.

You'll see goalie Iker Casillas make several huge saves to keep the plucky Italians off the board when the match was still there for the taking.

You'll see Cesc Fabregas deliver a beautiful cross in the 14th minute that David Silva headed perfectly into the far corner to give Spain the lead.

You'll see a breathtaking pass by Xavi Hernandez late in the half to a streaking Jordi Alba, who effortlessly flicked the ball into the net to give the Spanish a 2-0 lead at the break.

And you'll see nifty second-half goals by Fernando Torres and Juan Mata that allowed Spain to enter the history books with a roar, not a whimper.

"We realize what we've done," Alba said afterward. "And we're very proud of it."

They should be.

Midfielder Andres Iniesta was named player of the game.

Can we really be surprised? It was Iniesta, after all, who scored the World Cup-winning goal against the Netherlands in extra time two years ago.

A guy who keeps coming up big when it matters.

Just like his team.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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