To continue our ‘Classic Euros’ series ahead of Euro 2020 kicking off, this time we’re going back to 2012, and another crowning moment for one of this century’s greatest teams.
Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain side had already won two consecutive tournaments, winning both Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
They would reach the final of Euro 2012 as well, although it wasn’t the safest passage through. They topped their group, but that was only officially confirmed once Jesus Navas scored an 88th-minute winner in their final game against Croatia.
Del Bosque’s side beat France in the quarter-finals, before edging past Portugal on penalties in the last four.
Their opponents were Cesare Prandelli’s Italy, who themselves hadn’t made it easy. Both sides occupied the same group, and prior to Navas’s winner for Spain in the final match, Italy and Croatia shared identical records behind the group leaders.
Once Prandelli’s side made it through, they needed penalties to beat England in the quarter-finals. They then produced a superb victory over Germany, with Mario Balotelli scoring twice in a 2-1 win.
Thus the Olympic Stadium in Kiev was set for a cracker of a final, and it certainly got one – although not in the way the Italians would have hoped.
Del Bosque opted for an unchanged lineup for the final, with Cesc Fabregas operating as the most advanced central player.
It didn’t take long for Spain to take the lead. Andres Iniesta played a delightful ball in behind the Italian backline, which Fabregas latched on to and crossed for David Silva to head home.
Then it was the turn of Xavi to make his mark. Receiving the ball in the midfield, he waited and waited for what seemed like an age before expertly slipping in Jordi Alba, who fired the ball beyond Gianluigi Buffon in the Italy goal.
Spain went into the break with a two-goal advantage, although Italy had chances to reduce their deficit when play resumed.
Antonio Di Natale twice came close to scoring when he saw efforts saved by Iker Casillas.
On 78 minutes, Spain almost added a third. Pedro shot at goal from close range, but his effort went narrowly wide of the post.
But Del Bosque’s side didn’t have to wait much longer for that crucial third goal. On 84 minutes, Xavi played yet another inch-perfect through ball into the feet of Fernando Torres, who shifted his weight onto his left side and calmly slotted the ball into the corner with his right foot.
There was still time for another. Torres ran through and found Juan Mata, who made no mistake when presented with an empty net.
Spain lifted their third consecutive major international trophy – the first European team ever to do so.
The final was an artistic display of the passing football, the tiki-taka style that was Spain’s identity in the late 2000s and 2010s.
They have never quite been the same force in international competition since, having gone on to be knocked out of the subsequent 2014 World Cup at the group stage.
Spain then reached the last 16 of Euro 2016, before Del Bosque stepped down and announced his retirement.
Italy were also knocked out of their group in the 2014 World Cup. At Euro 2016, they reached the quarter-finals, losing to Germany on penalties, before failing altogether to qualify for the World Cup in 2018.
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