Spain on Sunday retained their European championship title in style, beating Italy 4-0 in the Ukrainian capital Kiev to become the first side to complete back-to-back wins in the competition’s 52-year history.
Manchester City’s David Silva opened the scoring in the 14th minute, heading home a pinpoint cross from Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas, after a fired-up Spain, earlier accused of playing a “boring” possession game, came out all guns blazing.
Jordi Alba made it two on 41 minutes after he ran onto a sublime through-ball from his new Barca team-mate Xavi Hernandez and slotted a left-foot shot past the advancing Gianluigi Buffon.
Fernando Torres — who scored in Spain’s 1-0 Euro 2008 final win against Germany four years ago — made it three with six minutes left while his Chelsea colleague Juan Mata made it four on 88 minutes.
“La Furia Roja” are now the only side to have won three consecutive major titles, with European wins either side of their World Cup victory in 2010.
Tens of thousands of people young and old thronged the streets of Rome and Madrid to watch the game on giant screens, with both historic capitals a sea of green, white and red Italian tricolors and red and yellow Spanish flags.
But it was Spanish fans who erupted at the final whistle in scenes of wild celebration that brought unbridled joy to a nation struggling with recession.
The final was the 31st match in three weeks of football involving 16 teams in Poland and Ukraine, which despite misgivings before the start of the tournament, has generally been considered to have gone well.
Before the competition started, there were fears about the readiness of the eight match venues and other infrastructure as well as high travel and accommodation prices for fans, particularly in Ukraine.
Racism was also a worry, amid claims that far-right gangs were rife in football grounds in both countries, while Ukraine also faced a boycott from European nations over the alleged mistreatment of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
Some racist chanting from foreign fans and violent clashes between Poland and Russia fans were seen and organizers courted controversy at the last by inviting the controversial Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko to the final.
But the worst fears have not materialized, allowing the focus to remain mostly on the pitch, with high-quality matches attracting record television viewing figures in Europe and around the world.
UEFA president Michel Platini told reporters he felt proud of both co-hosts, while Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said it had been an “honor” to stage the competition.
“It seems to me that we’ve succeeded,” he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
“Even though the Polish and Ukrainian teams aren’t playing in the final, one thing’s clear: Poland and Ukraine have won Euro 2012,” added Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.
Poland and Ukraine are hoping to reap the benefits from holding such a “mega-event”, particularly in tourist revenues, with Euro 2012 helping to shatter myths of the former communist east European nations being cold and inhospitable.
A recent survey of more than 1,000 foreign fans by independent pollsters PBS indicated that 73 percent said they would come back to Poland within three years, while 89 percent said they would recommend Warsaw to family and friends.
Some even compared Euro 2012 to the ground-breaking recognition of the Solidarity trade union led by Lech Walesa in 1980 that triggered a wave of anti-communist sentiment and ultimately played a part in the collapse of the eastern bloc.
The next competition will be held in four years’ time in France.