| KIEV, July 2
KIEV, July 2 One of the greatest soccer
tournaments of all time ended with a "cherry on the cake" final
when Spain retained their European Championship title with a 4-0
win over Italy on Sunday.
Their victory brought the curtain down on a glittering
three-week festival of football that, despite repeated fears
about Poland and Ukraine's ability to host the event before it
started, proved a success on and off the pitch.
Most of the 31 matches were of the highest quality, with
some mouth-watering goals, played in a sporting manner with few
sendings off, little or no dissent from players towards referees
and, with one or two minor exceptions, little trouble from fans.
Spain's triumph against Italy not only rekindled belief in
what Pele called "the beautiful game" but it also established
Spain beyond any doubt as one of the greatest international
sides ever, following their initial triumph at Euro 2008 and in
the World Cup hosted by South Africa two years ago.
Once they took the lead through David Silva in the 14th
minute of Sunday's final and doubled it with a stunning second
from Jordi Alba four minutes before halftime, Italy, who
themselves had a very good campaign, were never going to
Two more goals in the last 10 minutes from substitutes
Fernando Torres and Juan Mata gave Spain the biggest winning
margin in a World Cup or Euro final.
The victory delighted UEFA's technical experts whose chief
heaped praise on Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque on Monday for
what his team have brought to the game.
Andy Roxburgh, who heads UEFA's technical delegation, told
reporters: "He has been a role model for others. He is so modest
that even last night he carried on as if it was nothing to do
"But he has contributed so much. We as a technical group
feel that the way he has handled it, so humble, like most of
Spain's players, who showed such humility, is so impressive."
Roxburgh and his technical team were also delighted with the
overall standard of the tournament in which only two of the 31
games ended goalless in the tense knockout stages.
The matches also threw up some intriguing new tactical
developments including much better use of the wings, quicker
reorganisation by defending teams after an attack breaks down
and far more fluid forward play.
Roxburgh added: "Those are developments we are still
analysing. We used to have box-to-box midfield players, now we
have wide men doing the same job against defensive blocks who
get back so quickly. The game is changing.
"But as far as we are concerned, there are three benchmarks
in international football, the World Cup, the Champions League
and the Euros as to what can be achieved at the highest level.
"These Euros had so much quality they have left a kind of
glow. And what a way to finish. We had so much cream, and the
final was the cherry on top of the cake."
Spain secured the biggest win in any major final even though
they startdc the Italy match without a recognised striker and
instead deploydc a midfield of guile, brilliance and creative
invention, encapsulated in Andres Iniesta.
The diminutive midfielder was named Player of the Tournament
by the technical committee who included 10 of Spain's 11
starters on Sunday in their 23-man Team of the Tournament.
The unlucky player to miss out was Alvaro Arbeloa, who
nevertheless played his part in Spain's success which eclipsed
the great West Germany side of the 1970s, the last European team
to reach three major finals.
Germany again were in contention in the later stages here
and contributed to one of the best games at the finals in their
4-2 quarter-final win over Greece.
Thunderous goals from Philipp Lahm, Sami Khedira, Miroslav
Klose and Marco Reus, whose volley late in the game looked like
a schoolboy's dream goal, put paid to their opponents.
Greece, the surprise Euro 2004 champions, had played their
part too, contributing to the tournament's great start, a 1-1
draw with co-hosts Poland in Warsaw on June 8.
From the time Robert Lewandowski put the Poles in front with
one of the 22 headed goals here, the barometer was set fair for
a superb finals and stayed that way throughout the biggest
sporting event in eastern Europe since communism collapsed.
Apart from Ireland, beaten by Spain, Italy and Croatia in a
tough group, none of the 16 teams were outclassed.
Ireland at least got one award as their fans were officially
nominated as the best in the tournament with UEFA president
Michel Platini heading to Dublin to present their prize.
Other teams shone in bursts like Russia, Portugal and the
Czech Republic, and while neither host nation made it through to
the knockout round, they were not disgraced either.
Poland exited after two creditable draws while Ukraine
enjoyed a frenzied night in Kiev when they beat Sweden 2-1 in
their opening match with the great Andriy Shevchenko scoring
both goals before announcing the end of his long international
career when they went out after losing to England.
That group match saw the one moment of real controversy when
Ukraine appeared to have equalised with a ball that crossed the
line, but the goal was not given and England advanced before
losing to Italy on penalties in the quarter-finals.
The Italians, not highly fancied before the tournament, then
made it to the final where Spain were waiting to lay claim to
their place among soccer's elite on an unforgettable night in
Kiev which capped a memorable event.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)