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19:00: So here we are, the big finale. 30 days ago, Euro 2012 started and 30 games, 72 goals, three red cards and two penalty shoot-outs later it all comes down to a showdown in Kiev between two sides coming full circle in the tournament. Spain and Italy started their Euro finals campaign with an encounter and they will end it with another. Their first clash had three points at stake, their second is for the Henri Delaunay trophy.
19:02: Most people’s pre-tournament predictions as to who would contest the Euro 2012 final have proven 50% correct. Euro holders, World champions and widely recognised uber-unit Spain were top of many’s tips for the tournament. Controversy-hampered Italy were not. However, the Azzurri have earned their spurs and a shot at the top dog with a series of displays veering from the solid to the sublime. Spain have been, well, Spain. While this might not be the final many foresaw, it has all the elements to provide the quality everyone hoped for.
19:05: In 2006, Italy came into a major tournament with the shadow of a match-fixing crisis hanging over them and pretty much written off as challengers. They ended up winning it. Six years later and here we are again, with the unfancied Azzurri charging their way to the final of another competition with domestic match-fixing whispers trailing in their wake. Good omens for the Italians or what?
19:10: If Italy needed any more good omens, then how about this. The Azzurri’s exit to Slovakia at the 2010 World Cup was, Italian newspapers agreed, their biggest humiliation since losing to North Korea at the 1966 tournament. In 1968 they won the European Championships.
19:13: Across the canvas to the Italians, in the red corner, is Spain. You may have read one or two superlatives about them. They can make history today by becoming the first European side to win three successive major international tournaments and in the process achieving another first by retaining the Henri Delaunay trophy. Who needs omens when you’re that good?
19:15: Tonight sees the fourth time that teams who have already met during a European Championships have then gone on to contest the final. In 1988 the Netherlands began their campaign with a 1-0 loss to the USSR but later beat the same opponents 2-0 to take the trophy. Eight years later, Germany beat the Czech Republic 2-0 in the group stage and 2-1 in the final. Finally, in 2004, Greece were 2-1 winners against Portugal on the opening day and 1-0 victors in the final.
19:17: So what can we expect from tonight? Well in the opening group game, these two sides played out a 1-1 draw and Italy proved they are more than a match for the Euro and World champs. But will that result spur on Spain to prove the critics wrong?
19:19: Spain began as favourites in that opening game (as they will do again this evening), but they were matched stride for stride by the Italians, who were typically solid at the back but surprisngly slick in attack. Spain had the majority of possession, which is pretty much par for the course, but Italy fashioned as many clear-cut chances, if not more. It took a Cesc Fabregas equaliser in the 64th minute to salvage the holders a draw following Antonio Di Natale’s opener.
19:21: So what do Spain’s players think of the history that can be made tonight? “We have achieved great things with the national team,” said Xavi. “We’re in a great generation of players and we have a great opportunity to make history. This is our chance.” Excitement and expectancy to say the least.
19:23: Spain, of course, are the holders of the Henri Delauney trophy following their triumph in 2008. It was this win that capped stage one of their ascent to being the world’s best side. From the 2012 squad, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva and Fernando Torres all started the final, with the latter scoring the only goal in the 1-0 win over Germany. In addition, Xabi Alonso and Santi Cazorla came on as substitutes. All of these can make history themselves tonight by becoming the first players to win two European Championships.
19:24: Of course, Italy are no strangers to success. The aforementioned World Cup win in 2006 was their fourth success in the global competition. They have also bagged the European Championships once before, in 1968. It doesn’t matter how unfancied they are they are never far away (barring a North/South Korea or a Slovakia).
19:25: Italy and Spain have met six times before in major tournaments. The first was in the 1934 World Cup quarter-final, which Italy won 1-0 in a replay following a 1-1 draw in Florence. Giuseppe Meazza scored the goal. Italy also beat Spain in the group stage of the 1988 Euros (1-0 thanks to Gianluca Vialli’s goal) and the last eight of the 1994 World Cup (2-1 with a Baggio (Dino and Roberto) double either side of a Jose Luis Caminero goal). The two also drew 0-0 in the group stage of the 1980 Euros and the quarters of the same competition in 2008 (Spain won that 4-2 on penalties). And there’s the 1-1 draw just three weeks ago.
19:27: Italy have also had the pleasure of inflicting the heaviest defeat in Spain’s history. In the 1928 Olympics, they beat them 7-1 in a replay following a 1-1 quarter-final draw. History is on Italy’s side, but Spain have the form. They are now unbeaten in 19 competitive fixtures and have now gone 28 games without defeat in this competition since losing 2-0 in Sweden in a Euro 2008 qualifier on 7 October 2006. Their last defeat at a Euro finals was a 1-0 loss to hosts Portugal in the 2004 group stage that saw them eliminated.
19:28: Italy do already have one psychological feather in their cap as the 1-1 draw in Gdansk ended Spain’s run of 14 straight competitive victories since the 1-0 loss to Switzerland in their opening game of the 2010 World Cup finals. There would be no more spectacular way for Italy to end Spain’s unbeaten run than tonight. They’ll get a lovely shiny trophy for their trouble as well.
19:30: Mario Balotelli showed in the semi-final against Germany that when he is on it – he is on it. If you look in the dictionary under the definition of ‘putting your foot through it’ you will now see Mario’s second goal that night. The question is will he see enough of the ball to threaten Spain this evening? That is where Andrea Pirlo comes in.
19:31: Spain: 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: 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.
Referee: Pedro Proenca (Portugal)
19:32: Both teams make one change from their respective semi-finals. Ignazio Abate is fit again for Italy and so returns to their defence in place of Federico Balzaretti. Left-back Balzaretti filled in on the right in the win over Germany, but Abate’s return will provide greater balance to the Azzurri back-line. Spain return to a line-up with no recognised striker as Cesc Fabregas is recalled in place of Alvaro Negredo. The Sevilla forward made no impact on the semi-final against Portugal and was replaced by Fabregas before the hour.
19:35: Spain just do not concede goals – but the one they have at this tournament came from Italy, and six of the 12 saves Iker Casillas has had to make all tournament came in that opening game against the Italians. Both sides are chock-a-block with big-match experience, but the Spanish should hold the edge when it comes to major international finals. Seven of tonight’s starting XI started the World Cup final two years ago, while the quartet of Iker Casillas, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Sergio Ramos are starting their third major final in a row.
19:36: Alan Hansen on Spain’s tactics. “We’ve talked long and hard about the Spanish in and out of possession but you don’t win as many games without the mental strength to go with it. They found some inner strength to pick themselves up against Portugal in the semi-final and win it. I think Spain’s movement is slower. They are not as potent as they used to be. They are magnificent to watch but they can be more direct. I don’t think I’ve seen a side so poor in possession for 90 minutes and then come out and be so good in extra-time as Spain in the semi-final.”
19:37: Martin Keown on Italy’s tactics. “Italy’s defenders have been outstanding. They just do a decent job. There are no outstanding players but they know their roles. The way that Sergio Ramos nailed Ronaldo in that semi-final, I think he has too much for Mario Balotelli. But then against Germany that was the best I’ve ever seen Mario play. It was the game of his life. Can he reproduce that again?”
19:38: Alan Shearer on tonight’s game. “Spain have changed the face of how they play, with six in midfield and no striker. Coaches in the world will be looking at that and thinking if they can do that with their teams and win. Defensively, they are so hard to beat and don’t concede goals. For Italy, who would have thought after drawing to New Zealand two years ago that they would be here? They thoroughly deserve it. The Spanish guys have a chance to create history by winning three majors in a row and if they do, they should be known as the best team ever.”
19:40: The players are in the tunnel. Get yourself ready for a Gigi Buffon national anthem masterclass. That man can bang out an anthem like no-one else.
19:41: The players are out and eye the trophy up on the walk past. We will start with the Italian national anthem.
19:44: Gigi Buffon said in a press conference earlier this week that he thinks of his grandparents who died during World War II when he sings the anthem. He has produced another hugely passionate display there.
19:45: The two captains, both keepers, are going for the coin toss which Buffon wins. Round one Italy.
19:46: Its the reigning champions to kick off the 2012 European Championship Final.
19:49: We’ve had the first shot of the game and it’s from Italy as Andrea Pirlo slices well wide. Both sides look unsurprisingly up for this.
19:51: The passing game has already started from the Spanish and Italy look ready to attack as soon as the have the ball. Balotelli already started with his arguments after a clumsy header from Ramos that weren’t given. Spain have a free-kick in a good position here though.
19:53: Sergio Ramos fires over from 30 yards with the free-kick. One each on shots. Jordi Alba works well to dig out a cross which is put behind for a corner.
19:54: That man Ramos is there again, heading over from Xavi’s corner. Spain have settled now, having an onslaught on the edge of the 18 yard box but Italy defending brilliantly so far.
19:56: Xavi and Iniesta both opt to have a long shot on goal which are blocked before Xavi gets another go which is fired just over. Millimetres away there.
19:58: Pirlo pings a ball over the Spain defence which Ramos can pass back to Casillas but had Balotelli eating up yards behind him. That looks Italy’s way tonight.
19:59: Xavi uses quick feet in the middle before just putting too much on the pass to David Silva. Spain already look a better team than the performance against Portugal in the Semis.
20:00: GOAL TO SPAIN!
20:01: (Silva 14 min) Spain have started much better and deservedly go one up. Iniesta slides Fabregas through the full-back who pulls back for Manchester City’s David Silva to head home. Well worked by Spain and first blood to them.
20:03 Italy bounce back with a free-kick in a good position which is deflected behind for a corner which is then whipped in over Casillas who is fouled. Italy behind for the first time this summer. Game on.
20:05: Again Italy have a barrage of corners which give off half chances, but no shot on target for Italy. Silva’s goal is the only shot on target so far.
20:06: Chiellini poorly gives the ball away and Pirlo has to slide in perfectly before Spain could go 2 to the good. Chiellini has a problem here and is coming off and Balzaretti comes on. Bad to worse for Italy.
20:11: Spain work out a half chance but Iniesta can’t control and Italy go up the other end and win a free-kick as Pique is booked for intent there.
20:13: Again Spain work the ball on the edge before the move breaks down, and Italy break and Balzaretti puts a great ball in and Casillas punches away before Balotelli heads home. Italy right back in this game at the moment.
20:15: Cassano has Italy’s first shot on target as he cuts in and fires low through two defender’s legs and Casillas holds it well. David Silva has now been involved in five goals at the Euros, with three assists and two goals.
20:17: Half an hour gone in this game and it’s been as close as expected but Spain have the all important goal in the defense of their trophy.
20:19: Balzaretti has been impressive since replacing Chiellini, used the ball well which is important against Spain, the possession experts.
20:20: Italy very nearly hurt Spain, and it’s that man Antonio Cassano again. He unleashes a stinging drive from range which has Iker Casillas worried and the Real Madrid man has to punch it away.
20:22: A few time the Spanish have worked the fullbacks into a good position but have had to go back as there is no striker in the box. It’s the Spain way it seems.
20:24: According to Prozone, Italy have had 53% of possession so far. It’s the first time Spain have been in the minority at Euro 2012.
20:25: Mario Balotelli works well with Montolivio before striking high, wide and not at all handsome. Good play to get there though from the Azzuri
20:28: GOAL TO SPAIN!
20:29: Brilliant goal from Spain. Jordi Alba gives Xavi the ball and goes off sprinting, and Xavi expectedly find the perfect pass and Alba finishes like a striker. Italy have got a long way back from here, after the new Barcelona signing’s goal.
20:30: Italy bounce back with a shot outside the area from Montolivio which is punched away by Casillas. End to end here.
HALF TIME: SPAIN 2-0 ITALY
20:33: An effort from Spain from distance is caught by Buffon, just before the half time whistle goes. Wonderful half for Spain, who are on their way to three consecutive international tournament wins, it seems.
20:37: Alan Hansen: “It was a total masterclass in passing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something so good. The problems they had when they played no strikers earlier in the tournament was because they passed it poorly, but when they move the ball like that it doesn’t matter about not having a striker.”
20:42: Alan Shearer: “We have seen a master class on how to keep a hold of the ball and pass it around. Spain are playing no forwards and Jordi Alba has been getting the run down the flank time and time again. To even suggest Spain are boring is laughable. It is amazing to watch. You are probably seeing the best team ever. No team has ever done this, no team has won three tournaments on the bounce and we will see history.”
20:44: Martin Keown: “When the Italians are trying to press, Spain are switching the ball from wing to wing. They’re not allowing Italy to win the ball high up the pitch. They are doing to the Italians what Italy did to Germany. Italy look almost dead on the feet. In the second half there will have to be a major turnaround. Italy need a good start or they’re out of this.”
20:48: Italy set to kick us back off, facing a huge 45 minutes here.
20:49: Antonio Di Natale has come on as a subsitute and nearly pulls one back straight away, but heads over. Spain then go up the other end, where Fabregas drags his shot wide.
20:52: Just ridiculous football from Cesc Fabregas. He somehow dribbles past three defenders inside the six-yard box but then treads on the ball and it is hacked clear from inside the goalmouth. That really would have been game over.
20:54: Spain want a penalty now as Sergio Ramos’s header is blocked by the hand of Leonardo Bonucci. Definitely strikes his hand, I’ve seen that given…
20:55: Big chance for Italy as Di Natale has two clear cut chances but is denied both times by Iker Casillas. Brilliant Goalkeeping.
20:57: Spain nearly find Fabregas but a poor control stops the chance. Italy are hanging on here.
20:59: Italy look tired and uninspired as Thiago Motta comes on for Monolivio. Italy need something, anything right now.
21:02: Spain are making a change as David Silva comes off for Pedro. The goalscorer does not look happy about being brought off.
21:04: It gets worse for Italy. Thiago Motta is going off on a stretcher after pulling his stretcher, 5 minutes after being Italy’s final subsitute. It is really not the Italian’s night it seems.
21:06: Italy are two-nil down, down to ten men through injury but have won another free kick in a good position. What can Pirlo do?
21:07: He puts a good cross which Panucci goes down after a challenge from Pedro but it was very soft. Spain may as well celebrate already, their fans are.
21:10: So if Spain are going to prove they are not boring, now is their chance. 3-0 is the record for a score in a final, can they beat it?
21:13: Spain are just enjoying themselves now, passing the ball with ease. Italy look to have given up.
21:15: Spain step on the gas and suddenly Pedro is in behind, but his cross is poor and an Italian toe hooks the ball clear. With 20 minutes to go let’s hope Spain go for this.
21:18: Not much is happening, but now Spain are gonna change that. Cesc Fabregas being replaced by Fernando Torres. Good night from Fabregas but can Torres put an exclamation mark on it?
21:22: Oh, what a miss! Jordi Alba is again the engine arriving at pace down the left, and he cuts it back for Pedro to side-foot wide from a few yards out.Luckily for Pedro perhaps, he was offside. It was a stunning passing move though.
21:24: So Spain are 10 minutes away from making history, and there is no worry of a comeback here. Strolling their way to the title are the Spanish.
21:27: GOAL TO SPAIN!
21:28: Consider exclamation mark put on. Fernando Torres has put himself as joint top goalscorer and becomes the first player to score in two consecutive Euro finals. Played behind the usual Spain way and tucked away like the Torres of old. 3-0 in terms of tonight and the past 4 years too.
21:29: Andreas Iniesta, player of the tournament surely, gets a standing ovation as he comes off for Chelsea’s Juan Mata. Spain are the best team in the world right now, and possibly ever and have proved it.
21:31: GOAL TO SPAIN!
21:32: Juan Mata scores with his first touch after being given the goal at his mercy by his Chelsea teammate Fernando Torres. Unselfish by Torres, who could have won the Golden Boot with a goal there. Biggest win in a final? Check.
21:35: As it stands, Torres will however get the trophy as he has 3 goals, 1 assist just like Mario Gomez but has played less minutes than the German. Unbelievable at the start of the tournament.
21:36: FULL TIME SPAIN 4-0 ITALY! SPAIN ARE EURO 2012 WINNERS!
21:37: So they have done it. They have made history in so many ways and these players have made legends of themselves. Arguments that there have never been a better side have just got a lot stronger.
21:40: These Spain players are now doing the usual routine of celebration, but let’s give Italy credit. They outclassed England, Germany and put a great performance in for their troubled football community.
21:43: Chris Waddle: “We’ve seen a masterclass today. Spain have been the best team in the world for the last four or five years. They deserved it tonight again, even with 11 v 11. Italy gave a lot of effort, but unfortunately they’d played too many hard games. They felt the pace and Spain, with that superior technique and movement and talent on the ball have ran out easy winners. The Spanish have been criticised but they are the best team in the world without a shadow of a doubt.”
21:44: The Spain players celebrate to the song of “Another One Bites The Dust” ironically. Replays show Balotelli storming off at the full time whistle, but he is back out now. Hates not entertaining us doesn’t he?
21:46: Spain give the Italians a round of applause as they go up. Pure class.
21:47: Italy collect their runner’s up medals and can be very proud of their efforts this summer. Pirlo gets a special word from Platini, he has been brilliant. Balotelli in typical fashion is not happy at his medal.
21:49: Spain players collect their history making medals, becoming the only side to ever defend the Euro Championships successfully. Torres collects his Golden Boot, the team are huddled celebrating. Del Bosque gets his medal and Iker Casillas is handed the trophy and lifts his third trophy in 4 years for Spain. They are simply wonderful and deserve every bit of credit they will get.
21:53: Mario Balotelli is in tears, as he is not really used to losing. But they have lost to a great side, and have only pride in their performance to be honest.
21:54: Alan Hansen: “This is just a fantastic team but it helps that you have a great goalkeeper. The first-half performance was superlative and they should go down as the best team in history. Their technical ability is better than anyone we’ve seen. They work so hard. Pirlo has been the star of tournament but he has hardly had a kick and that is because of the pressing from the Spanish side. We will be talking about that first-half display for 30 or 40 years.”
21:55: Alan Shearer: “As soon as Italy went down to 10 men, you could see Fernando Torres was itching to get on because he knew there would be chances. In a strange way it’s probably been a frustrating tournament for him because he has only played a bit part. But when he’s been asked to do a job he’s scored goals and played well.”
21:56: It seems strangely ironic that a Spanish side who have largely deleted the need for a centre-forward should end up with a number nine winning the golden boot.
21:57: Iker Casillas is a man who hasn’t conceded a goal in the knockout stages of a tournament since 2006. That’s Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 all won without conceding after the group stage. Incredible.
21:58: Fireworks in the stadium! Is that just teasing Mario Balotelli?
22:01: Alan Shearer: “This team is the best ever. We mention the Brazil sides with Pele but this is absolutely unbelievable what they have achieved.”
22:05: The verdict is fairly unanimous it seems – we have just seen the best team ever.
22:06: So the 2012 European Championships in Poland and Ukraine has been a great tournament, won by a great team. Spain have won three major trophies in a row, beat the record for goals in a final, destroyed the claims that they are boring, and proved that they are simply the best team ever. They have not been their best during the tournament but a good team wins when they are not playing well, and they are a very good team. Spain are invincible, unbeatable, amazing, beautiful, consistant, entertaining and the winners of Euro 2012.