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FOR Iker Casillas, making history in rampant fashion was no excuse for self-satisfaction.
As Vicente del Bosque’s Spain staked their claim to being the best international side of all time — up 4-0 against Italy in the closing seconds of the Euro 2012 final — the keeper pleaded for a whistle to save his opponents: “Ref! Respect for the rival. Respect for Italia!”
But the defending champions’ dominance was incontrovertible by the conclusion, even if Italy had been steadfast after losing third substitute Thiago Motta to injury.
With David Silva’s header the prize for their early supremacy and young Barcelona recruit Jordi Alba doubling the lead just before half-time, late sub Fernando Torres steered home another before setting up Chelsea teammate Juan Mata for more late punishment.
It meant they were, sequentially, European champions, world champions and then European champions again, between 2008 and 2012.
The performance was a decisive answer to a growing band of malcontents, who had forced Del Bosque and his players to defend themselves against allegations that they had been “boring” throughout the tournament — which had been anything but.
Handed to Poland and Ukraine jointly, European leaders later threatened a boycott over ongoing political strife — while a Panorama investigation alleging widespread racism among Polish and Ukrainian football fans sparked both indignation and backlash.
In the end, four nations were investigated by Uefa for racist activities by their fans — none of which were the hosts.
As for footballing fortunes, a 2014 World Cup title defence that began with a 5-1 loss to the Netherlands and ended with a 2-0 loss to Chile at the Maracana — putting Spain bottom of their group with Australia — signalled a death knell that sounded across the Med in Italy, too.
They were likewise eliminated at the group stage, but were saved from last place by one small reprieve — a win against Roy Hodgson’s lowly England.
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