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Spain crush Italy 4-0 in Euro 2012 final

KIEV, Ukraine -- Spain swept to a majestic 4-0 victory over Italy in the European Championship final on Sunday, retaining their title and extending its reign as the best team in world soccer.

After critics had called this Spain team boring at Euro 2012, the most one-sided final in the tournament's history was a perfect response.

Helped by the fact that Italy was reduced to 10 men in the 64th minute, while trailing by two goals, the victory earned Spain a record third straight major title after Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. The hat trick of titles is an unprecedented feat for a European team, as is successfully defending the championship.

“To win three titles is almost impossible. Congratulations to the players,” said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who followed Luis Aragones as coach after Euro 2008.

Goals from David Silva and Jordi Alba in the first half gave Spain a convincing lead at the Olympic Stadium. Fernando Torres and fellow substitute Juan Mata scored in the last six minutes to turn victory into a rout.

When the final whistle was blown, Spain's players rushed to each other and huddled in a circle, jumping and spinning in celebration.

There were more hugs later in the dressing room, this time with Crown Prince Felipe of Spain.

Italy's task had been tough enough with 11 players, and it became impossible with just 10. All its substitutes had been used when midfielder Thiago Motta, who had only been on the pitch for seven minutes, was taken off due to injury.

“We respect (Italy) very much. They were a great rival, but we took control of the game as time went by,” Del Bosque said.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said Spain's players were “fresher physically” than his team, which played its semifinal on Thursday and had one less day to recover. He also pointed to the loss of Motta as a turning point.

“Once we were down to 10 men there wasn't much we could do,” Prandelli said. “We attempted to get back in the match at the start of the second half, but then when we lost Thiago Motta the match was finished.”

But he added: “This was a great European Championship for us. Really the only regret is that we didn't have a few extra days to recuperate.”

Spain allowed Italy the majority of first-half possession, yet its trademark quick passing game was lethal when required — as was the finishing in front of goal. The second half was almost entirely one-way traffic.

When called into action, Spain goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas was outstanding in keeping Italy's attack at bay.

“These years have been the best of my life,” said Casillas, who recorded his 10th consecutive clean sheet in tournament knockout matches. “I hope it can be matched in the future but it will be hard.”

Critics of Spain's style said the world and European champions had become tedious — keeping possession with endless back-and-forth passes to stifle games, not to win them.

But Spain answered by playing its best and slickest soccer at Euro 2012 when most was at stake.

Along with some sublime soccer, it also delivered the most comprehensive victory in a European Championship final, beating West Germany's 3-0 win over the Soviet Union in 1972.

“We won being true to our playing style, and by moving the ball the we way we moved it we knew how to take charge of the match,” Casillas said. “What we do is difficult but we make it look easy.”

Playmaker Xavi Hernandez echoed that view.

“The bar was very high, but they are nice challenges” he said. “It was more difficult when people didn't believe in us.”

Xavi's Italian counterpart, Andrea Pirlo, failed to orchestrate play as he had done when Germany and England were eliminated from the knockout stages. He looked up with teary red eyes as Spain lifted the trophy.

Yet Spain's victory was fully deserved.

Sergio Ramos and Xavi had already threatened Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon's goal when Spain took the lead in the 14th minute.

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Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas, center, clears the ball from Italy's Mario Balotelli, right, during the Euro 2012 soccer championship final between Spain and Italy in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday. (AP)



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