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Euro 2012 analysis: undeniably the greatest of all time

After so much debate, Spain ended up only dominating. In every sense. After producing the biggest final win in a major international tournament, there can be no doubt about their status, writes Miguel Delaney

A crowning moment
A crowning moment
Image: PA

APOTHEOSIS. LAST NIGHT in Kiev, Spain produced the biggest winning margin in the final of a World Cup or European Championships to finish the most remarkable winning run in international history.

It was, in short, perfection. Spain are quite likely the greatest international team of all time.

Indeed, after a performance that closed the competition like that, it’s incredible to think that so much of Euro 2012 was spent debating about their style and quality.

Last night, there was no debate. There was only utter dominance.

Not only did Spain end up with three successive trophies for the first time in history, they ended up with the player of the tournament and golden boot.

And, as if to prove the point even more, the key first goal came through the idealised interchange between the three attackers in their contentious 4-3-3-0, with one of them then finishing with a typical striker’s goal: a simple but telling header. Andres Iniesta provided a divine through ball, Cesc Fabregas chipped up and David Silva finished. Brilliant.

Still, there was more. By the end, Spain had actually brought on a striker. He turned a convincing win into a perfect illustration of Spain’s entire approach. Fernando Torres scored himself before setting up for Juan Mata.

There was also something fitting about the second goal. After a largely indifferent tournament, the player who has defined the generation stepped up in the manner his team. Xavi played the pass of the tournament to set up Jordi Alba.

The key point, though, is that this is what Spain were always capable of with sufficient space and sufficient sharpness.

It was also an issue that was overlooked in the even-more-tiresome debate about whether they were boring.

As barely needs repeating, the Spanish core have played more matches than any other team in this tournament in the last four years.

That appeared to reach breaking point in the four days leading up to the Portugal match. Rather foolishly travelling between the south-east of Ukraine and the north-west of Poland before the match, they were simply jaded. That came across in the amount of errors in that match.

What’s more, since they began this remarkable run of success at Euro 2008, the default approach of any opposition team has been to sit back very deep, congest the space and just try and counter against Spain and frustrate them.

Like so often against that approach, though, Spain ultimately did enough.

Last night, though, they didn’t just do enough. They took things to a perfect, exhilarating peak.

There were two important differences between this coronation and many of the matches that preceded it.

First, Spain were clearly much fitter and sharper. This time, the four days between games wasn’t spent with so much needless travelling. It was spent recharging and re-energising.

Secondly, there is the fact that Cesare Prandelli took a massive risk.

For the majority of this tournament, the Italian manager has proven the most masterful tactician. He illustrated that in the opening game against Spain.

Last night, though, he tried to go one better. He tried to actually beat Spain. He pressed them high. He left space.

Last night, though, the master tactician was given a lesson. It was illustrated to him exactly why so few teams take that risk against Spain.

They get ripped apart.

Duly, that’s what Spain did, with Iniesta the most perfect example.

They have ended up the perfect team.

And all of the debates are long over.

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