No competitive game between Spain and Italy had been decided by more than one goal until the UEFA EURO 2012 final in Kyiv, when a Roja side at the peak of their powers won 4-0 to secure an unprecedented third straight major title.
It had been 1-1 when the teams met in their group stage opener but David Silva and Jordi Alba struck before half-time in the decider and late on substitutes Fernando Torres and Juan Mata completed the most comprehensive victory in a EURO final. Now they face off again on Tuesday at Wembley for a place in another final, and our team reporters at both this tournament and the 2012 finals, Graham Hunter and Paolo Menicucci, look back nine years to that encounter at NSC Olimpiyskiy.
Graham Hunter, Spain reporter
I recall the UEFA EURO 2012 final with huge affection for a number of reasons, and not just the result. A dramatic Queen concert on the streets of Kyiv the night before the grand finale – “There can be only one….!” sang Adam Lambert (Freddie’s brilliant replacement) and even 24 hours before La Roja faced Gli Azzurri I was absolutely certain which one it would be.
It’s usually hard to be sure of a match result but Spain were brimming with not only know-how, ultra-talent but self-confidence … and energy.
The players had persuaded Don Vicente del Bosque to abandon original plans and not fly the 1,500km from their semi-final in Donetsk to HQ in Gdańsk – or the 1,000km back to Kyiv.
They felt fresh, ready and they told us so. All that was missing was a theatrical wink to say: “We’re gonna win this, don’t worry!”
The match was a joy. As a producer I was given a pass to accompany our cameraman on the pitch behind the goalmouth (Iker Casillas’s end in the first half) which gives you a rare, privileged and involved viewpoint.
The David Silva goal! How, against a behemoth defence, did Spain lead via a header from a pocket-rocket? I saw Jordi Alba’s run about the same time as Xavi Hernández did – what a pass, what a finish!
Then the sight of Spain making Italy, a tiring Italy, chase. Decorative goals, Xavi to Fernando Torres and El Niño to Juan Mata, made it a win of historic proportions. A fitting way, it would emerge, to end Spain’s run of trophies. Temporarily I hope.
After the match – into the dressing room. I’d been allowed to be the only journalist/producer in the Spain changing rooms immediately after the FIFA World Cup final two years earlier and the players and coach were equally happy this time. Lovely footage.
What stood out was the low-key celebrations. “This is what we came for, this is what we do. Job done,” was the tone. Totally chilled.
What was moving and enjoyable, however, was the presence, everywhere, of wives, girlfriends, parents and, most of all, little kids. Sons and daughters gambolling around joyfully unaware that their fathers, not just ‘dad’, were in fact all-time heroes. Something like geniuses.
Those were the days my friends. We thought they’d never end.
Paolo Menicucci, Italy reporter
The first thing I remember when I think about that final is Iker Casillas screaming to the referee not to add any added time and whistle for the end of the game, “Respeto” for an already defeated Italy. A class act from one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He was right: that Azzurri side deserved respect.
Cesare Prandelli’s team arrived at that final in Kyiv with no gas left in the tank. At least not enough to face a brilliant Spain side who made any opponents stay behind the ball thanks to their famous possession game led by midfield artists like Andrés Iniesta and Xavi.
A joy to watch for football lovers around the world, a bit less so for players arriving from two hard-fought battles against England and Germany in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively. A nightmare when you lose key players to injury: Giorgio Chielllini after just over 20 minutes, Antonio Cassano playing despite pain, then Thiago Motta five minutes after coming on as Prandelli’s third substitution of the game forcing the Azzurri to play with ten men for almost the entire second half.
I interviewed Gianluigi Buffon and Chiellini a few years after that final and the frustration at not having the chance to face that magnificent team at full strength was still there. It was clear four years later when Italy faced Spain again in the round of 16. The Azzurri won 2-0, determined to cancel the memories of that final. “Obviously it was not a final this time,” Chiellini said after the game. “But football is great because it always gives you a second chance and tonight we were not going to miss it.”
The old lion of the Italy defence could not know that football wanted another chapter of the eternal duel between Italy and Spain at UEFA EURO 2020. This time at Wembley, with a final at stake. Both teams with plenty of fresh blood in their squads. Yes, those glory days are gone but when I think where Italy were only three years ago, the future seems so bright that I gotta wear shades.