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Four years and nine days ago, at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion in Vienna, Cesc Fabregas whistled a penalty past Gianluigi Buffon's lugs, and Spain started to believe. The spot kick put Spain into the semi finals of Euro 2008, securing victory over bogey side Italy in a major tournament for the first time since their first-ever meeting, at the 1920 Olympics. The rest is recent history, with Spain going on to win Euro 2008, then following it up by scooping the World Cup.
Still no striker for Spain, they simply don't care what you think, and as reigning world and European champions, you can hardly blame them: Casillas, Arbeloa, Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Alonso, Silva, Fabregas, Iniesta. Subs: Valdes, Albiol, Javi Martinez, Juanfran, Pedro, Torres, Negredo, Mata, Llorente, Santi Cazorla, Jesus Navas, Reina.
Italy replace Federico Balzaretti with Ignazio Abate: Buffon, Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, Pirlo, Marchisio, Montolivo, De Rossi, Balotelli, Cassano.
Subs: Sirigu, Maggio, Ogbonna, Thiago Motta, Balzaretti, Di Natale, Giaccherini, Borini, Giovinco, Diamanti, Nocerino, De Sanctis.
46 min: Di Natale's first touch is to whumph a header just over the bar from 10 yards, Abate finding him with a superb cross. That was a decent chance.
47 min: Fabregas drags a shot inches wide left from the edge of the D. Buffon may not have got to that were it on target, he was leaning the other way.
48 min: Wow, this is some start to the half. Fabregas twists and turns down the right, reaching the byline and selling Balzaretti a couple of dummies. He nearly finds Silva at the near post, and then after a scramble is close to beating Buffon. But the ball's hacked clear.
49 min: Silva tries to hook the ball past Bonucci in the Italian area. The ball hits the defender's hand, but there's no intention, and the referee's having none of it. You've seen them given, but equally that would have been harsh, the players were so close together. We move on without incident. Italy are living dangerously here.
51 min: This is high-octane stuff. Montolivo slips the ball down the inside-left channel for Di Natale, who hammers a shot goalwards from 12 yards. Casillas parries spectacularly. The ball falls back at Di Natale's feet. He looks for Balotelli's head in the middle, but his chip inside is plucked from the sky by the keeper. Great play all round. "If this performance is anything to go by then Spain are the street-hustlers of the football world," suggests David Wall. "They've lulled all of us dupes into thinking they're dull and running out of ideas then as soon as we agree to play hunt-the-queen they happily relieve us of the contents of our wallets."
54 min: Spain are threatening a third. Iniesta lifts a clever pass down the middle, splitting the Italian defence in half, but the through ball hits Fabregas on the back, and the chance is gone. So unlucky.
56 min: Now it's Pirlo's turn to lift a clever pass down the middle, but his scoop for Di Natale is a wee bit too strong. Spain go up the other end, and after a few passes, Iniesta attempts to bust open Italy's offside trap with a backheel. He's not far away from finding Silva, either. That would have been preposterously good.
57 min: Italy make their third change, Motta coming on for Montolivo.
58 min: A free kick for Italy down the right. Pirlo lifts it to the far post, but Casillas palms clear. Balotelli picks up the ball and launches it towards the top right, but his effort flies over. "As far as I can see this game is just a series of intricate passes, punctuated by the odd goal and amazing bursts of skill," moans Ian Bahrami. "Yawn. When's the Premier League start again?"
59 min: The opening scorer Silva is hooked for Pedro. He's not particularly happy about it, but off he must trot. "I called my Dad at half time," begins Tom Young. "In discussing Spain's dominance of international football he managed to compare Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas et al to Steve 'Interesting' Davis in the 1980s: 'No one else ever got a look in.' I could not detect any irony through the phone line."
61 min: Well, if this wasn't already over, it pretty much looks like it now. Motta zips after a ball only for his hamstring to ping. He's carted off, straight down the tunnel. After four minutes! I do hope he warmed up properly. Italy have used all their subs, remember. This is now 10 versus 11.
64 min: Balotelli wins a free kick for Italy down the left. Pirlo swings the ball to the far post for Bonucci but, under pressure from Busquets, he can't get his head to the high ball. Italy's only slim, slim chance is from set pieces, you'd have thought. Well, they'll have to be better than that.
67 min: The game's gone a bit flat, as you might expect. Spain must surely think this game is won, while Italy have got the funk on. They look totally deflated, though in fairness Spain's dominance had burst their bubble long ago. "Tom Young's dad was almost right," says Phil Sawyer. "However, I'd say this Spanish team are the equivalent of Phil 'The Power' Taylor. Sometimes you just have to marvel at someone's ability to up their game just as it appears others might be catching up."
70 min: Iniesta sliderules a ball down the left for Pedro, whose cross towards Fabregas is hacked clear at the last by Barzagli. Spain are looking for a third goal, but not with any great urgency. Which is kind of them. "Spain as Steve Davis got me thinking," writes Ray Burkhill. "The closest 1980s snooker match for England would be Tony Meo." Isn't he a bit too exciting for Mr Roy's Special Traffic Cone Set? What about Doug Mountjoy? Rex Williams?
73 min: Fabregas and Pedro diddle their way down the right, one-twoing as they skip. It's a delightful move, which ends with Fabregas reaching the byline and chipping into the centre for Iniesta. But Bonucci heads up in the air, allowing Buffon to pluck the ball from the sky. Spain appear to be upping their game for more goals.
75 min: Fernando Torres, the man who won Euro 2008 for Spain, comes on for Fabregas. "Funny emotions this tournament," writes Lewis James. "A genuinely exciting German side that turned a bit flaky when it mattered. An England team of likeable, honest toilers who didn't get ahead of themselves. Now feeling sorry for Italy. It's not right." And yet it feels so good?
77 min: Italy haven't had the ball in Spain's half for quite some time. This contest is over.
79 min: Pedro is sent scampering free down the right. He over-elaborates with Torres clear in the centre, but manages to pull the ball back for Iniesta, who slides a pass out left to Jordi Alba. The magnificent left back zips into acres, then wheechs a low ball into the area for Jordi, who should score from six yards but somehow sidefoots wide. His blushes are spared by the offside flag.
82 min: According to the official stats, the possession has been exactly 50-50! Abacus Man must have fallen asleep. "Del Bosque will become the first coach to have won the World Cup, European Cup and European Championship" notes Ignacio Hernandez. "You will not hear him say it."
84 min: IF IT'S A EURO FINAL, THEN THERE MUST BE A TORRES GOAL!!! Spain 3-0 Italy. A delightful finish. Italy fanny around in midfield. Xavi pounces, drives forward, and slides a ball down the inside-left channel for Torres. The Chelsea striker opens up his body and sidefoots a ball past Buffon and into the bottom right. This equals the biggest win in a Euro final - West Germany's 3-0 win over USSR - while Torres becomes the first player to score in two of these finals.
86 min: Anyone remember Juan Mata? Here he is! He replaces Iniesta, who sashays off the field. "Turns out the way to keep Pirlo quiet is to be a much better team," notes Matt Dony. "Why didn't England think of that?"
87 min: Spain's stratospheric brilliance is, of course, down to Scotland. Eh? "I can't help but feel that the pioneer of Spain's brave and revolutionary striker-less formation hasn't been given the credit he deserves," writes Alex Marsh.
88 min: THERE GOES WEST GERMANY'S RECORD!!! Spain 4-0 Italy. Torres hares after another Xavi sliderule pass down the inside left. He draws Buffon, before sliding the ball inside to his Chelsea teammate Mata, who clips home. Forget the fact Italy have been down to ten men, Spain were rampant anyway. This has been a majestic display.
90 min: There will be three added minutes of a game long over.
90 min +2: Torres slides the ball into the six-yard box from the left. Sergio Ramos attempts a Lee Sharpeian backheel. Buffon's not having that. Ramos runs off with a very cheeky look on his face, perhaps mindful that he'll get a clip round the lug for his sauce if he's not careful.
SPAIN ARE THE FIRST EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS TO RETAIN THEIR TROPHY, AND THE FIRST TEAM IN HISTORY TO WIN THREE MAJOR INTERNATIONAL TOURNAMENTS IN A ROW!!! Spain 4-0 Italy. That was as comprehensive as it gets. Signature performance? Well, they've got one now. Italy were unfortunate to go down to ten men, but the game was over by then anyway. Spain were rampant, and are celebrating in the manner they deserve. Boring? Eh? Who said that? "John Terry is putting on his Spain kit as we speak," suggests Jan Krcmar.
Incidentally, here's a delicious bonus for Spain, who have copped so much flak for rarely fielding a striker: Fernando Torres has won the golden boot. He's one of several lads on three goals, but as he's rarely featured, he cops the prize as a result of having played the fewest minutes.
Italy - with several players in tears - go up for their runners-up medals. Mario Balotelli had stormed off down the tunnel at the final whistle, but he's calmed down and is back with the rest of the squad. Gianluigi Buffon, head held high and smiling, leads his men up. Giorgio Chiellini, whose final was over almost before it had begun, is in floods, poor chap. Fifa president Michel Platini hangs the silver medals round their necks. It'll feel bitter now, but runners up seemed like a pipe dream for Italy at the beginning of the tournament. They've been magnificent. On another day... on another day.
But they had no answer for this Spanish side, who kept their powder dry for almost the entire tournament, before exploding in spectacularly entertaining style tonight. They trudge up the stairs - winning three trophies in a row takes a fair bit of effort, you know - and receive their gold medals. They crowd round the podium, start jumping up and down with the anticipation of little children on Christmas morning, and eventually Iker Casillas lifts the Henri Delaunay Troophy. SPAIN ARE THE 2012 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS. Here comes the ticker tape. The tiki-taka-ticker tape...
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