“We are very happy for all the country and for us. I think we deserved it, we were superior to Italy. We played a complete game and perhaps the best of the entire Eurocup,” Xavi said. “We made history and now we have to enjoy it with all those who supported us and our families.”
The first half Sunday, especially, was Spain at its best, passing, passing and passing again, gradually moving the ball up field from the back with relentless patience to mount sustained attacks on Gianluigi Buffon’s goal, splitting and dizzying his defenders with balls through every gap they left.
Who needs strikers? Spain proved at Euro 2012 that it can largely do without. David Villa, Spain’s all-time leading scorer, top scorer at Euro `08 and joint top scorer at the 2010 World Cup, missed this tournament as he recovers from surgery on his left leg. He watched the final from the posh seats in the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.
Torres, an unconvincing stand-in for Villa, only came on for Fabregas when the game, in essence, was done, with just 15 minutes left to play. The midfield creativity of Fabregas, Silva and Iniesta together lends one to think that Spain will manage just fine at the 2014 World Cup should Xavi, who’ll be 34 then, be unable to play a major part.
Spain’s four goals in the final took the Euro 2012 total to 76. Spain scored 12 of those, the most of any of the 16 teams, for an average of two per game. Those are the exact same numbers Spain racked up in winning Euro 2008. So, on that evidence, Spain isn’t showing signs of slowing down or weakening, such is the depth of its talent.
Other top teams in world soccer, notably Argentina led by three-time world player of the year Lionel Messi, and 2014 World Cup host Brazil, will look at this tournament and see reasons to feel optimistic.
The Netherlands, the losing 2010 World Cup finalist, flopped out of the Euro 2012 group stage, losing all its games and scoring just twice. Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk promptly resigned.
France, the 1998 world champion and 2000 European champion, is also in disarray. Coach Laurent Blanc stepped down after his team squabbled among itself at Euro 2012 and lost to Sweden and then Spain in a miserable quarterfinal showing.
Losing 2008 finalist Germany looked to be on fire at Euro 2012, scoring almost at will, before the team packed with talent and pace suddenly misfired horrendously in its semifinal against Italy, losing 2-1, overwhelmed by Italy’s passing and the finishing of Balotelli. And England was just England, perpetually unable to live up to its own self-important expectations.
But Spain, well, that’s a whole different ball game.
Not just soccer, but art.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester