Spain saved their best until last. It was incredible to witness the performance they produced in the final at UEFA EURO 2012 to beat Italy 4-0. When it really mattered, the best team on the planet stepped up a gear.
Up until Sunday's final, there had still been questions surrounding Spain's team. Did they have a Plan B? Could they cope without their leading scorer David Villa? They answered in resounding fashion.
Earlier in the tournament against Croatia and Portugal, Spain had struggled to find a breakthrough and looked as though they lacked a cutting edge. Against Italy though, they took their performance to a higher level and thoroughly deserved to become the first team to win back to back European Championships.
Vincente Del Bosque went with an unconventional formation for much of the tournament playing without a recognized central striker and reaped the rewards for his tactical decisions. He now stands alone as the only manager to win the World Cup, European Championship and UEFA Champions League.
Against Italy, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez were superb. Cesc Fabregas played his position to perfection with his movement, allowing other players more space to operate in. The way the fullbacks push forward leaves space for other teams to try and exploit at the back, but when Spain attacks at such pace from all directions, they are difficult to deal with. Spain's passing was exemplary throughout the tournament, but the build-up to the first two goals in Sunday's final really showed them at their best. The fact fullback Jordi Alba was the furthest man forward to get onto a perfect through ball and score Spain's second goal summed up their play.
Spain's attacking game is always in the limelight, but defensively they were rock solid throughout the tournament, conceding just one goal. An even bigger achievement considering they did it without the injured Carlos Puyol.
It's not just the pretty things they do well. In the post-game show, my broadcast partner Jason de Vos highlighted one example of the fantastic work-rate of Sergio Ramos. The Spain defender ran up the pitch as part of his team's attack, but when they lost the ball, rushed back to get the block in to break up the Italians counter.
It was a complete performance from Spain. In full stride, they are wonderful to watch. There's little doubt they are the best team of our generation.
Did Prandelli Get It Wrong?
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli talked after the match about how much the "defeat hurts," but said he thinks his team had an "excellent tournament." It's hard to disagree with his assessment of the Italians campaign at EURO 2012. The final 4-0 score was harsh on Italy, but on the day, they were just outplayed across the pitch by an exceptional team.
Italy exceeded expectations, and for most of the time, they looked good. Their performance against Germany in the semi-final was second only to Spain's display in the final. Heading into the tournament, very few people would have predicted Italy would make it to the final and even at the semi-final stage, they were massive underdogs against Germany.
When they are in full flow, Prandelli's Italy are a joy to watch. They showed themselves to be solid defensively while entertaining going forward. Andrea Pirlo was outstanding and the partnership between Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano proved to be lethal on the international stage.
However, for all the credit Prandelli deserves for the track he has put this team on, he may be second guessing a couple of his decisions regarding Sunday's final. Italy's cause was hindered by having to play the final 30 minutes with 10 men after Thiago Motta was forced off with an injury just a few minutes after coming on. Knowing his team had injury concerns with a couple of players, was it too big a risk to use all three substitutes so early in the match?
The main question surrounds Prandelli's formation for the final. It seemed an easy decision to make. After their dominance against Germany, the Italian coach stuck with the same system that produced the stunning performance. I would have done the same. However, on reflection, Prandelli might be wondering if it would have been better to put a greater emphasis on closing Spain down.
In their opening game of the group stage, Italy used a 3-5-2 formation and did a fantastic job of containing Spain. It was the highest quality game of the group stage and Italy looked every bit as good as the defending champions.
Throughout the tournament, Spain had difficulty breaking down teams that had set out to deny them space around the edge of the penalty area. Had Italy set up with a more defensive game plan, it likely would have been a tighter match, but it says a lot about Prandelli's approach to the game and his belief in his players that he wanted to try and have his team get on the front foot and dictate the game from the opening whistle. Of course, the early goal for Spain didn't help matters.
Despite the outcome in the final, Italy leave the tournament with their heads held high. The players are clearly galvanized as a group and enjoy performing for Prandelli. The Azzuri's future looks bright.
My Team of the Tournament:
Theodore Gebre Selassie
My Goal of the Tournament:
1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – v France
2. Mario Balotelli – 2nd goal v Germany