IT’S been nine years since Spain hammered Italy 4-0 in Kiev to win Euro 2012, their third consecutive triumph at a major tournament.
While it’s hard to forget the talents of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and other Spanish greats, those days are long gone – and the Azzurri should make their semi-final rivals suffer this evening.
Spain were the dominant force in international football between 2008 and 2012.
Having already won Euro 2008 and the World Cup in 2010, their victory at Euro 2012 was an emphatic reminder of just how good they were.
VIncente del Bosque’s team comfortably defeated the Italians thanks to goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata.
Inspired by Pep Guairdiola’s all-conquering Barcelona side, Spain didn’t allow viewers to blink – passing with pace and expressing their talents with unflappable confidence.
It was tiki-taka football at it’s very best, making an Italian side – containing greats Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon – look like amateurs.
Speaking after the final, England icon Alan Shearer told BBC Sport: “This team is the best ever.
“We mentioned the Brazil sides with Pele but this is absolutely unbelievable what they have achieved.”
It would prove to be Spain’s last dance, though, as international football’s greatest team collapsed.
Since that famous night in Kiev, the Spanish have failed to impose themselves on a major tournament.
They endured a disastrous World Cup defence in 2014, losing 5-1 to Holland before underdogs Chile knocked them out with a 2-0 win at the Maracana.
Spain then struggled at Euro 2016, losing to Croatia in the group stage before Italy avenged their 2012 heartbreak with victory in the last 16.
That saw the end of del Bosque’s reign, allowing a farcical situation to unfold two years later at the World Cup.
His successor Julen Lopetegui was sacked on the eve of the tournament after agreeing to become Real Madrid’s new manager.
Legendary defender Fernando Hierro was placed in temporary charge but failed to save them from a shock loss to tournament hosts Russia in the last 16.
Spain have since rebuilt under new boss Luis Enrique, with only Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba remaining from their 2012 triumph.
They have improved but are still nowhere near the unreachable standards set a decade ago, despite qualifying for the semi-finals of Euro 2020.
Enrique’s side have won just once in 90 minutes at the tournament and needed penalties to beat minnows Switzerland in the previous round.
Bar the 5-0 victory against Slovkia, Spain have failed to show even a fraction of the quality and style that saw them defend their European crown in Kiev.
Italy, meanwhile, have been arguably the best side of the tournament, winning all five of their games and knocking Fifa’s No1 side Belgium out.
Ex-Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has transformed the Azzurri into a winning machine after their failure to qualify for the last World Cup.
Although romantics may remain hopeful of a Spanish resurgence at Wembley, they are no longer the great entertainers of international football.
Italy have a showpiece final in their sights – and an emphatic victory of their own against Spain.
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