Spain smash Italy 4-0 to hold European title

The Spanish team holding their trophy last night, after a convincing win © Getty Images

Spain have become the first team in history to win three major international tournaments in a row. Their ‘tiki-taka’ style has made them undisputed masters of world football.

One month ago, the football elite of sixteen European countries touched down in Poland and Ukraine. Three-hundred and sixty-eight players, one prize: the Henri Delaunay trophy. One by one, the players’ dreams were dashed as stronger opponents picked them off. Finally, last night, only two teams remained.

The first were Italy, suave old aristocrats of European football, with nine major finals and four World Cup victories. All over the pitch, Italy ooze culture and class: the unshakeable resilience of keeper Buffon, the sophisticated passing of Andrea Pirlo, the erratic genius of striker Balotelli. They are, by any measure, a fine set of footballers.

But what they were up against was something else altogether. As individuals, Spain are supremely talented. But as a unit, they are a machine. When Spain have the ball, it slides about the pitch serenely, the defenders left panting in chase. As soon as they lose it, the Spanish players swarm their opponents like angry bees. They invariably dominate, often keeping the ball for around 70% of the match.

Tiki-taka,’ as it is known, takes masterful precision and technique. It has made Spain one of the most successful teams ever. They went into the match as champions of both Europe and the world, unbeaten in 19 competitive matches in a row.

Yet in spite of this near-perfection, many were willing the favourites to lose. Why? Because while tiki-taka wins games, it does not produce much of either excitement or goals.

Instead, they succeed by dominating so totally that the opposition have no chance to score. They have now gone six years without conceding a goal in a knockout match – almost 1,000 hours. At the other end, meanwhile, they typically manage one or two goals per game. Spain are so committed to keeping possession in midfield that they sometimes refuse to even field a striker.

Yesterday’s match was a battle between Italy the great, and Spain the invincible. Italy’s mortals fought hard, but they were helpless: Spain were unstoppable. Their four-nil victory makes them officially the greatest team in the history of international football.

Tiki tedium

The Spanish suspect that the criticisms they face are founded on petty jealousy. The truth, they say, is that Spain are simply much better at football than any other international team. They have achieved a perfection of which others can only dream. A gracious onlooker would greet them with admiration, not envy.

Admiration, sure, agree romantics – but nothing more. The true heroes of sport are flawed and unpredictable: they play with joy, risk and daring. Just like a person, they say, a football team is impossible to love until it has exposed itself to failure. Perfection is not beautiful, but boring.

You Decide

  1. Is perfection beautiful, or boring?
  2. Does style matter in sport – or just the result?


  1. Imagine you are conducting a radio interview with a Spanish player after their victory. Write down ten questions to get interesting details about their thoughts and emotions.
  2. Write a personality test quiz to determine whether the taker prefers slick perfection or flawed greatness. You can include questions about anything – sport, fashion, music...

Some People Say...

“Perfection is the death of possibilities.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Does this have any relevance beyond from football?
The debate about perfection certainly does. In some ways it represents two philosophies or temperaments. Some love tight, slickly produced pop, others prefer their music with a rougher edge. Some like perfectly crafted and plotted novels, others prefer books that sprawl gothically.
So what does science have to say?
It’s very hard to measure. But one type of perfection scientists have tried to measure is physical beauty. Many people were asked to judge faces on their appeal, until the researchers could pinpoint ratios that were universally attractive. They found that the more symmetrical a face was, the more attractive. However, some research suggests thatabsolute symmetry is a turn off. So, predictably, it’s inconclusive...

Word Watch

Henri Delaunay Trophy
Henri Delaunay, a Frenchman who worked in football’s world governing body, is thought of as the inventor of the European Championship. He first proposed the idea in 1927, but the tournament was first held only in 1960, five years after Delaunay’s death. The trophy awarded to the winners of the tournament is named after him.
Erratic genius
Talented as Mario Balotelli is, he is even more famous for his flamboyant, headline-grabbing stunts than for his football. One story goes that he drove his car into a women’s prison ‘just to look around.’ Another (possibly untrue) says that he once won almost £30,000 while gambling... then gave £1,000 of it to a tramp.
Or tiqui-taca in Spanish. The phrase comes from the quick, rhythmic passing style, and describes especially the football played by Spain and Barcelona.
Officially the greatest team
Spain have now won three major tournaments in a row – the first time in history that a team has achieved that. Their four goal win was also the biggest in any major final.


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