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).