By John Parolin, ESPN Stats & Information
Spain won its third-straight major tournament title Sunday, finishing a successful EURO 2008 title defense with a 4-0 win over Italy in Kiev.
Spain is the first team in history to win three major tournaments (EURO 2008, World Cup 2010 and EURO 2012) by exorcising a historical demon, beating the Italians for the first time at a major tournament. Italy previously had a 3-0-4 record against Spain in World Cup and EURO competitions.
Spain defended its European Championship by doing what it does best: creating and exploiting a possession disparity in the attacking third. Spain completed 179 of 227 passes into the attacking third against Italy (78.9 percent), while holding the Italians to 54.9 percent (67 of 122) passing into the attacking third.
Spain’s higher completion percentage stemmed from attempting high-percentage passes- The average Spanish pass into the attacking third traveled 16.0 yards, while Italy’s average pass traveled over seven yards further (23.2 yards).
Spain opened the scoring in the 14th minute with a David Silva header that capped off an impressive start for La Furia Roja. In the opening 15 minutes, the Spanish had 44 touches in the attacking third, tied (with themselves vs Ireland) for the most in the opening 15 minutes of a match this tournament.
Down 2-0 and without any substitutions left in the 60th minute, any chance the Italians had of climbing back in faded when Thiago Motta left with an apparent hamstring injury. Over the last 30 minutes of the match, Spain had a 237-99 passes completed advantage. After the Motta injury, Spain had a 17-0 touches in the box advantage.
Spain posted the second-best completion percentage on passes into the penalty area in a game this tournament. Spain completed 22 of 41 (53.7 pct) passes into the box and scored three times off those passes, while Italy completed only seven of 27 passes into the box (25.9 pct).
Italy’s midfield wizard Andrea Pirlo completed one of eight passes into the box (12.5 pct), his worst percentage of the tournament and worst in any game since completing one of eight (12.5 pct) for Juventus in a 1-0 win Jan. 8 at Lecce.
Pirlo wasn’t the only Italian who struggled. Striker Mario Balotelli finished the match with 33 touches in the attacking third, his second-highest total in a tournament game. However, for the first time this tournament (including his 19-minute substitute appearance against Ireland), Balotelli failed to record a single touch in the box.
Spain finished the tournament with 1,087 completed passes into the attacking third over six games, more than Ireland, Greece, Sweden, Poland and Denmark combined (1,068 in 16 games).
By John Parolin, ESPN Stats & Information
Spain and Italy will meet Sunday in Kiev in the EURO 2012 Final, the fourth EURO final between former group opponents. Italy and Spain drew 1-1 on Jun. 10, and Italy is unbeaten (3-0-4) at major tournaments against the Spanish.
Historically, Italy is the only side Spain has never beaten in at least five major tournament matches. However, Spain is playing for history of its own.
Winners of EURO 2008 and World Cup 2010, Spain looks to be the first team to win three straight major tournaments as well as the first to repeat as EURO champions. A Spain win would make La Furia Roja the second team to win the EUROs three times (Germany).
Italy’s last appearance in a EURO final was 2000, falling to France 2-1 in extra time. The Italians have not won the European Championship since 1968, a 2-0 replay win against Yugoslavia.
The Italians were opportunistic in the group stage draw against Spain, with Antonio Di Natale’s first touch of the game a 61st-minute goal after entering as a sub five minutes before.
Di Natale converted the only pass he received from midfielder Andrea Pirlo in the match to open the scoring. The matchup between Pirlo and Spain’s Xavi in the midfield was a microcosm of the match.
Xavi had over twice as many touches (121) as Pirlo (49) in the match and had a 10-3 advantage in passes completed into the penalty area. Pirlo created a single chance in the match, assisting on Di Natale’s goal with a perfectly-weighted pass.
Spain equalized three minutes later when Cesc Fabregas finished a David Silva pass. Spain pushed for a winner after Fernando Torres entered in the 74th minute, but could not crack the defense.
Overall, Spain had a 239-85 advantage on touches in the attacking third in their group match. There was a similar dynamic in Italy’s semifinal win against Germany, as the Germans posted a 249-92 touches advantage in the attacking third.
Germany had a 38-25 edge in the first 20 minutes. Once Mario Balotelli put the Italians up, the Azzurri were content to defend, and the disparity grew to 211-67 over the last 70 minutes of the match.
Balotelli recorded only 10 touches in the attacking third, his tournament-low in a start. However, his brace (on his only two shots on target) exemplified the attacking efficiency the Italians need when conceding such a drastic possession advantage.
Continued opportunistic finishing would be critical for an Italian win, especially when Spain has controlled the ball better than any other team in the tournament.
Spain has completed 909 passes into the attacking third in its five games, or 86 more than the bottom four teams - Ireland, Greece, Sweden and Poland - combined in their 13 games. Italy’s ability to defend against Spain’s possession-heavy style will decide the outcome.
ESPN’s Soccer Power Index rates Spain a 72.4 percent favorite to win the title. Spain is ranked first in SPI, based on offensive and defensive ratings that are each about 50 percent better than Italy, which SPI ranks 15th.
By John Parolin, ESPN Stats & Information
Spain advanced 4-2 on penalties after a tightly contested 0-0 draw in Donetsk with Portugal. Portuguese captain Cristiano Ronaldo, set to take the fifth kick for Portugal, did not participate in the shootout despite converting 23 of 25 penalty kicks (including shootouts) in the past two La Liga and Champions League seasons.
After the French failed to handle Spain by sitting back and defending, Portugal started out by taking a more offensive approach to containing the Spanish attack.
Spain held a narrow 65-55 touches in the final third advantage at halftime. As the match went on that disparity grew, but Spain couldn’t convert a 138-54 advantage into a goal over the final 75 minutes.
Spain outshot opponents by an average of over 10 shots per match in its first four games, but only outshot Portugal 11-10 on Wednesday.
The wing play from both sides was poor. The teams combined to complete two of their 43 crossing attempts, the worst percentage in a game this tournament.
Portugal entered the match having completed the second-most crosses (22) of any team at EURO 2012. However, the Portuguese completed only 1-of-19 crosses (5 percent) against Spain, the fourth-worst percentage of any team at the tournament.
Spain had averaged 14.5 crosses per game in its first four games, completing 26 percent of attempts. Against Portugal, Spain completed 1-of-24 crosses (4 percent), the third-worst in a game this tournament.
While Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty kick status will dominate the conversation, his teammate on the opposite wing had his worst game of the tournament. Nani finished with 37 total touches in 120 minutes after averaging 46.5 per game in his first four games. Nani created 13 chances in his first four games, and failed to create one against Spain.
La Furia Roja posted a tournament-low passing percentage (81 percent) and completion percentage on passes into the attacking third (71 percent). For the tournament, Spain has completed 909 passes into the attacking third in its five games, or 86 more than the bottom four teams (Ireland, Greece, Sweden and Poland) did in their 13 games combined.
By Jonathan Costa, ESPN Stats & Information
Portugal and Spain meet in an elimination match for the second straight major tournament, following up their meeting in the Round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup.
Spain was victorious 1-0 in that match en route to winning its first ever World Cup. Portugal is still seeking its first major tournament trophy and a win over Spain would put Portugal into its second major tournament final, having previously reached the final at Euro 2004.
When these two teams met in South Africa, Portugal was without two players who have made a major impact at this summer’s tournament – Nani and João Moutinho.
Moutinho has completed 178 passes at an 84 percent success rate, both numbers surpassing what any Portuguese midfielder accomplished in South Africa. Nani, meanwhile, currently leads all Portuguese players with 13 chances created and his two assists are tied with Moutinho for the team lead.
Portugal’s passing as a team is leaving something to be desired at this tournament. It has the second-fewest passes completed and second-worst completion rate among teams that made the quarterfinals.
The driving force behind Portugal’s success has been the play of Cristiano Ronaldo. His three goals have him tied for the tournament lead and his 29 shots are more than any other player has taken so far.
His headed goal against Czech Republic was his sixth career goal at EURO, tied with Nuno Gomes for most by a Portuguese player and leaving him just one behind England’s Alan Shearer for second-most in EURO history. He also became the first Portuguese player to score at five different major tournaments.
Unsurprisingly, La Furia Roja also have the tournament’s best passing display so far with a tournament-high 2,779 passes completed. Spain’s 78 percent completion rate in the attacking third also leads all teams and its 60 chances created are second-most in the tournament behind Italy’s 77.
Keying the passing charge from Spain’s midfield is Xavi. He has completed 416 passes and has 19 chances created, both which lead the tournament.
Spain comes into this semifinal with a 299-minute shutout streak, 25 minutes shy of the longest single-EURO streak, a 324-minute run by Italy in 1980.
One key to its near-perfect defense has been its ability to simply keep the ball away from its opponent. Spain has a 61 percent possession rate in its first four matches, more than any other team.
Spain is limiting opponents to a 62 percent completion rate in its defensive third, best among the four semifinalists, and has also limited its opponents to just 17 chances created in the attack third.
The winner of this match takes on the winner of Thursday’s Germany-Italy match in the final on Sunday in Kiev.
By Zack Singer, ESPN Stats & Information
Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso put together an all-around performance for the ages Saturday against France, leading La Furia Roja to a 2-0 win in the quarterfinals of EURO 2012.
Alonso’s goals came on his only two touches in the penalty area. Alonso finished the game leading all Spanish players in touches (121), passes completed (97) and passes attempted (109), and tied for the team lead in tackles (4) and interceptions (3).
Alonso’s 19th-minute goal was a header off a cross from Jordi Alba from the left wing. It’s Spain’s first goal at EURO 2012 that came from a play starting on the left wing, and was their only chance created from the left wing in the entire game.
Spain started the match playing six midfielders, emphasizing their greatest strength. Spain’s midfield finished with 534 touches and just 8 turnovers. 353 of Spain’s 534 midfield touches came on France’s side of the field.
Spain’s midfield has 2,118 touches, more than any other midfield at EURO 2012. Spain’s midfield also has only 28 turnovers, just one more than that of Germany, despite having 616 more touches.
France was unable to break down Spain, finishing with only one shot on target and 104 touches in the attacking third. In 30 European Championship games since 1984, it’s the third-fewest attacking third touches France has had in one game.
Franck Ribery finished with just 57 touches for France and his number of touches decreased in each game at EURO 2012. Ribery’s 22 attacking third touches were 19 fewer than his previous low at EURO 2012.
It’s the second-fewest total touches Ribery has ever had in a match at the European Championships. Ribery had just 7 touches against Italy at EURO 2008, where he was subbed off in the 10th minute due to injury.
Karim Benzema had another forgettable day for Les Blues, finishing with two shots, neither of which was on target. Benzema finishes the tournament with 12 shots on target and no goals, more shots on target than any other goalless player at EURO 2012.
By John Parolin, ESPN Stats & Information
The tournament’s two top passing sides will meet in Donetsk on Saturday when Spain plays France for a spot in the semifinals.
Spain is rounding into form, bouncing back from a 1-1 draw with Italy to win matches against Ireland and Croatia by a combined score of 5-0. The French drew 1-1 in their opener to eventual group-winner England, and defeated Ukraine before falling 2-0 to Sweden in their last group match.
The only team to win its group in both 2008 and 2012, La Furia Roja hasn’t lost in 17 straight competitive matches at major tournaments or in qualifying.
The undisputed kings of possession, Spain completed almost 600 more passes than any other team and still posted the highest pass completion percentage (88 percent) of any team at the tournament. Spain relied on high-percentage passes, averaging only a tournament-low 17 yards traveled per pass.
Not just masters of the middle third, Spain also led the group stage with 65 completed passes and a 43 percent completion rate on passes into the penalty area. Those passes led to 26 scoring chances created, a mark that not surprisingly led all teams in the group stage.
France employed a heavy reliance on high-percentage passing as well, averaging 17.8 yards traveled per pass, the second-shortest in the tournament.
As a result, Les Bleus completed 1,542 passes, more than any team but Spain. However, the French also turned the ball over a tournament-worst 58 times, or once every 37.3 touches.
Four of the top five individual touches totals at the tournament belong to Spaniards: Xavi (388 touches), Xabi Alonso (293), Sergio Busquets (281) and Jordi Alba (277). Xavi also owns the highest number of attacking-third touches in a single game, posting 62 against the Irish.
France’s Franck Ribéry leads the tournament with 142 touches in the attacking third. Three of the top six touches in the attacking third match totals in the tournament belong to Frenchmen, with Samir Nasri and Franck Ribéry (twice) topping 50 touches in the final third.
In addition to the passing statistics, Spain and France are first and second respectively in shots on target. Spain has 39 through the first three matches, while France has 36.
Spain has no disciplinary concerns, but France defender Philippe Mexés will miss the match due to yellow card accumulation. Mexés was the tournament’s leader with 27 clearances, 11 more than any other player.
The winner of the match will face Portugal on Wednesday in the semifinals.
By John Carr and Jason York, ESPN Stats & Information
Spain and Italy advanced from Group C Monday to earn their spots in the quarterfinal round.
With Jesus Navas’ 88th minute game-winning goal, Spain remains unbeaten in 17 straight competitive games (major tournaments or qualifying) and the Croatians, who finish third in the group, are eliminated.
Spain has now won its group in four consecutive major tournaments and is the only team to win its group in both the 2008 and 2012 Euro tournaments.
A key aspect of the Spaniards' game that has earned them such success is their passing proficiency, which they do in extraordinary bunches, especially in the attacking third of the field. Spain has completed a tournament-best 624 passes into the attacking third this tournament and has the two highest single-game totals. When Spain won EURO 2008, it completed 690 passes in the attacking third over the entire tournament (six games).
Spain’s midfield has completed exactly 1,300 passes in this tournament, which is higher than 12 teams’ total completed passes thus far. The all-time best total for number of passes completed by midfielders was set at EURO 2008 by Spain (1,571).
Xavi has been the catalyst for Spain at both tournaments. Xavi has completed the most passes among not only midfielders, but all players with 327. He should pass his tournament-high total of 342 at EURO 2008 in Spain’s next match as well as the best total since group play began in 1980 by Germany’s Matthias Sammer, who had 346 at EURO ’96.
Croatia completed only 216 passes against Spain, the fourth-lowest single-game total of the tournament. Croatia did give Spain some trouble in the attacking third of the field, however, creating four of its six scoring chances in the final 35 minutes, three of which came from crosses.
In Poznan, Italy finished second in the group with a 2-0 win over Ireland for its first win of 2012.
Antonio Cassano became the first Italian with three career goals at the European Championships when he headed home Andrea Pirlo’s corner in the 35th minute.
Substitute Mario Balotelli scored his second career goal for the Azzuri with an overhead kick in the 90th minute, the latest goal scored in the tournament thus far and another off of a corner. Three of Italy’s four goals in this tournament have come from set pieces.
The Italians had their best attacking performance of the tournament, putting 17 of their 27 shots on goal and scoring multiple goals for the first time in their last six matches overall. Italy’s 29 touches in the attacking penalty area and 86 passes completed in the attacking third were tournament highs for the Azzurri.
Italy’s 466 completed passes were its most in a EURO match since group play began in 1980 and its 83.2 percent passing accuracy is also a high for the Azzurri during that span.
On the other end, Ireland, which was eliminated from the tournament before the game started, completed its fewest passes (189) and had its worst passing accuracy of the tournament (66.8 percent). Ireland’s 370 total touches against Italy are the fewest by a team in a match so far this tournament and the third fewest in a EURO match since group play began in 1980.
Ireland is the fourth team to finish the group stage with a minus-8 goal differential, which is tied for the worst ever (Yugoslavia 1984, Denmark 2000, Bulgaria 2004).
By John Carr, ESPN Stats & Information
Spain dominated in every aspect of its game en route to a 4-0 victory over Ireland Thursday, which put the Spaniards on top of Group C and made Ireland the first team eliminated from this year’s tournament.
Spain set single-game highs at any Euro tournament since group play began in 1980 in completed passes (810), passing percentage (90.2) and touches in the attacking third of the field (327).
Fernando Torres got the scoring started early for Spain with his 4th-minute strike past Irish keeper Shay Given, which was the earliest by a Spaniard at the European Championships.
David Silva’s 49th-minute tally made him Spain’s top scorer since the last World Cup with 10 goals for his nation (David Villa has nine in that span) and made Spain the second team to score in the opening five minutes of both halves of a Euro match. The other was Croatia in its first match against Ireland this year.
The Spanish offense didn’t slow down there, though. Torres scored again in the 70th minute, his 30th international goal, making him Spain’s 3rd all-time scorer and putting him equal with David Villa as Spain’s top scorer at the Euros with four each.
Cesc Fabregas’ 83rd-minute goal for Spain made him the fifth player to score in each of his team’s first two games this tournament.
Ireland’s 198 completed passes, 67.6 percent passing accuracy and 107 touches in the attacking half of the field are all single-game tournament lows.
In their last five major competitions (Euro 2004-08-12 and the 2006-10 World Cups), Spain has played 22 games and allowed more than one goal on just one occasion, the 3-1 loss to France in the 2006 World Cup round of 16.
In the early game, Andrea Pirlo put Italy ahead in the 39th minute with the first goal scored on a direct free kick in this tournament and the first at Euros since 2004. All five of Pirlo’s international goals since July 2006 have been on free kicks (3) or penalties (2).
Croatia controlled the second half, however, with a 95-to-59 touches advantage in the attacking third of the field and three shots to zero from inside the penalty area. Mario Mandzukic’s game-tying goal came in the 72nd minute, making him the second Croatian with three Euro goals (career or single tournament). Davor Suker had three in the 1996 tournament.
Thursday’s draw means Croatia is undefeated in its last six meetings with Italy, and Italy is now winless in six straight games at major tournaments and five straight games overall (0-3-2).
By John Carr, ESPN Stats & Information
Defending World Cup and European Champion Spain was unable to defeat Italy in its tournament opener as it seeks to become the first country to win three consecutive major titles and back-to-back European Championships.
With Sunday’s 1-1 draw, Spain ended its 14-game win streak in competitive matches (World Cup and Euro Qualifiers). The result also keeps Italy unbeaten against Spain in seven meetings at major tournaments (3-0-4).
Antonio Di Natale scored for Italy on his first touch of the game to give Italy a 1-0 lead in the 61st minute after coming on as a sub five minutes earlier. Andrea Pirlo connected with eight different teammates during the game, but completed only one pass to Di Natale, which resulted in his first international goal since the 2010 World Cup.
Italian striker Mario Balotelli had four turnovers against Spain, tied for the most by a player in the tournament. Three of those turnovers came in the attacking third of the field, which is tied with Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner for the most in the tournament.
Cesc Fabregas scored the game-tying goal for Spain in the 64th minute off of a David Silva flick into the box to prevent Spain from losing its Euro opener for the first time since 2000. Fabregas scored two goals in La Liga play this season that tied a match and gave Barcelona a point after previously trailing.
Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas had five saves against Italy, matching his total in seven qualifying matches.
In the second match of the day, Croatia dominated in the attacking third of the field to beat Ireland 3-1. Croatia completed 119 passes in the final third of the field against Ireland, who completed only 82. Croatia’s dominance in attacking possession was evident in the penalty area, where Croatia had a 17-10 touches advantage.
Mario Mandzukic got the scoring started early for Croatia with a header in the third minute before Sean St. Ledger pulled the Irish level with a diving header off of an Aiden McGeady set piece in the 19th. St. Ledger was the first defender to score in the tournament. Ireland scored five goals off of non-corner set pieces during qualifying, more than any other side.
Nikica Jelavic’s 43rd minute goal served as the game-winner for Croatia, but it was Mandzukic’s 48th minute header, his second of the game, that secured the win for Croatia. Mandzukic became just the second Croatian to score twice in a Euro match. Davor Suker scored twice in a Group Stage match versus Denmark in 1996.
He has two goals on two total shots in the tournament, which makes him the only player with a perfect shooting percentage on multiple shots -- Russia’s Alan Dzagoev scored twice on three total shots.
Before Sunday, Ireland had scored in 10 previous games at major tournaments and lost only once, a 2-1 defeat against Mexico in the 1994 World Cup.