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EURO 2012

Xavi and his little brothers conquer Europe

Barcelona midfielder and his protégés were key to Spain’s historic Euro 2012 win

Spanish players (From L) Gerard Piqué, Pepe Reina, Fernando Llorente, Iker Casillas and Xavi Hernandez pose with the trophy in Kiev's Olympic Stadium.
Spanish players (From L) Gerard Piqué, Pepe Reina, Fernando Llorente, Iker Casillas and Xavi Hernandez pose with the trophy in Kiev's Olympic Stadium.FRANCK FIFE (AFP)

Spain became the first team to win three major international trophies in a row in Kiev on Sunday night, storming to a magnificent 4-0 demolition of Italy in the Euro 2012 final.

It was an exemplary display that provided a glowing vindication of Vicente del Bosque’s occasionally criticized tactics at this tournament. The coach, who is now the first person to win a World Cup, European Championship and Champions League (with Real Madrid), was right: you can play without a number 9 and play well.

And you can do it brilliantly if, as Spain did to create its first goal on 14 minutes, Xavi looks for the ball, gives it to Andrés Iniesta who is watching for Cesc Fàbregas to slip his marker. The former Arsenal man took the ball to the touchline and, after showing up Andrea Barzagli, crossed it back across goal. If your teammate is bright like David Silva, he doesn’t need to be tall. The Canarian arrived to the ball before Giorgio Chiellini and headed Spain in front.

Spain proved you can play without a number 9 and you can do it brilliantly

Spain also showed you can play down the wing without wingers if you have a left back as explosive as Jordi Alba and Xavi in the driving seat. He waited for his new Barcelona colleague — Alba was signed by the Catalan club for 14 million euros from Valencia last week — to make his run and left him with just goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to beat. The 23-year-old, the big revelation of this tournament, showed no mercy to score Spain’s second four minutes before half time.

Xavi had expressed his regret at not being more influential in the previous games. This time round, however, he was key. Walking out into the Olympic Stadium, he passed straight by the trophy without looking. Focusing straight ahead, he found the grass to be damp, just as he likes it, and his friends — his little brothers. He played fast, without a break, and his soccer siblings did the rest.

The records

  • Spain is the first national team to win a European Championship, World Cup and then another European Championship in succession.
  • The 4-0 win over Italy is the biggest margin of victory in a European Championship or World Cup final, surpassing Brazil's 5-2 triumph over Sweden in 1958, Brazil's 4-1 win over Italy in 1970, and France's 3-0 victory over Brazil in 1998 (all in World Cups).
  • Spain coach Vicente del Bosque is the first person to win the European Championship, the World Cup and the Champions League (with Real Madrid in 2000 and 2002).
  • Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fàbregas and Fernando Torres all played in the finals in Vienna, Johannesburg and Kiev.

Iniesta, Silva and Fàbregas hadn’t even made their debuts in the Primera División when Xavi first put on a La Roja shirt and was already a world under-20 champion. They always recognized him: they watched the television and focused on him. It was Xavi who showed them they could play at an elite level by being small but good; it was him who gave them the taste for the pass, for finding the space to give or receive it by moving around and looking to combine.

What would Xavi be without his little brothers, whom he has protected in La Roja for the last four years? The quartet were together at Euro 2008 in Vienna and won the World Cup together in Johannesburg, where they showed the world that Spain has the style of a champion. Now it is European champion for the second time in a row, the style coined by Xavi has won again.

Xavi wanted to be influential and this time he was, from beginning to end

Luis Aragonés got his own way the day he told Xavi to take the reins. As did his successor Del Bosque, who has won the European Championship demonstrating you can play soccer without a center forward. You can if you play good players who despite being short in stature and small-footed usually perform like Silva, Iniesta — named player of the tournament — and Fàbregas. Cesc in particular offered a masterclass as a “false 9”: he penetrated further than expected and with his depth, touch and freedom made Spain devastating in attack.

Xavi’s stamp was as clear as that of Barcelona’s. For a few minutes, between the substitutions of Silva for Pedro and Cesc for Fernando Torres, it was virtually all Barça players on the pitch. Pep Guardiola must have felt proud watching his former players win and seeing Xavi hold up the ball and the match once again. Xavi didn’t just show the way by combining, but also by applying the pressure. He hassled Andrea Pirlo even when he was receiving the ball in Buffon’s area to try to get Italy going. He never managed to because in front of it were the Barcelona players knocking it back.

Xavi pushed around Pirlo, the guy the Italians call Mozart. But he didn’t do it alone. He did it with the help of his little brothers. They won the triple crown together. Xavi wanted to be influential and he was, from beginning to end. His through pass to Torres for Spain’s third made sure of victory on 84 minutes. The goal earned the Chelsea striker the Golden Boot at the tournament and four minutes later, when he found himself through again, he was generous enough to lay the ball off to his club teammate Juan Mata, recently on as a substitute, to add the fourth and complete the masterclass.

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