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Brilliant Spain can outshine their rivals for longer still

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Phil McNulty | 08:44 UK time, Monday, 2 July 2012

Euro 2012: Kiev

At 2.45am the lights went out on Kiev's Olympic Stadium. The only noise came from the thudding musical beats from hospitality areas and the few fans still taking souvenir photographs.

And yet this exciting, bustling city and its state-of-the-art arena was still illuminated by the latest stunning display from arguably the finest international team this sport has seen.

Partisanship and patriotism will be factors in the debate - Brazil of 1970 and France of 1998/2000 will have their advocates whenever the argument turns to who really was - or is - the greatest.

But Spain have now had a grip on the game since they won Euro 2008 and can take their place in history after a 4-0 victory against Italy, following a World Cup triumph in South Africa two years ago, confirmed three major tournaments in succession.

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From the devastating opening burst that brought David Silva's goal, via a run that resembled a red blur from Jordi Alba to end a spell when Italy actually threatened, this was a masterclass in tactical and technical excellence.

And then, with Italy down to 10 men after their final substitute Thiago Motta was carried off injured, came the ruthlessness. The late appearance of Fernando Torres saw the ploy of the "false nine" - playing without a conventional striker - replaced by one of "genuine nine" as Chelsea's striker scored the third, then set up club and country team-mate Juan Mata for the coup de grace.

Every box that indicates a world-class team was ticked. This was quite simply a supreme performance from a Spain side that can now slap their medals on the table and demand comparison with anyone.

And, laughably, it was done against the background of complaints that this was a "boring" Spain, who had crawled their way through Euro 2012. If this was their answer to those charges, it was eloquent enough for even the most hardened observers.

It is true there have been times when this Spain side has been less pleasing on the eye than in the past - the semi-final win against Portugal on penalties was dull - but to brand them "boring" on that evidence was naïve, and an insult.

One man who should have known better was Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. With comic timing that was so bad it was good, he chose the build-up to the game to write of Spain that "they have betrayed their philosophy and turned it into something more negative".

Wenger was able to reflect on those ill-judged remarks as he watched high in the stands in his role as a French television pundit, the Spanish making a nonsense of his words as they played without a negative thought in their heads.

This has been a Euro 2012 rich in quality, so a performance from the winners that will be forever remembered by all those who witnessed it was the perfect finale. The tournament got the two finalists it deserved and out of those Spain were worthy victors.

And a glance around the team, its stellar performers and those on the bench, suggests they have the capacity to extend their reign.

Goalkeeper Iker Casillas is the symbol of the Spain side, responsible and mature. Sergio Ramos is hard as nails, while new Barcelona defensive signing Alba's raids have been one of the highlights of Euro 2012.

Where to start in central midfield? Andres Iniesta is the master manipulator of touch and tempo. Xavi's pass for Alba's goal displayed almost scientific precision, while Xabi Alonso's distribution must make Liverpool fans weep when they wonder why Rafael Benitez decided he could do without him.

Cesc Fabregas filled the "false nine" role to perfection and David Silva was impeccable. All this with striker David Villa and great defensive lynchpin Carles Puyol watching from the stands in Kiev, ruled out by injury.

Look to the bench. Torres, Mata and Pedro Rodriguez came on in the final. Javi Martinez, Jesus Navas and Fernando Llorente were among those who did not.

For Italy, this was a night when their recent momentum was brutally stopped. The frustrations, inevitably, were most obviously expressed by Manchester City's Mario Balotelli.

He was unable to repeat the goalscoring feats that overcame Germany in the semi-final and walked straight down the tunnel at the final whistle before being persuaded back. He joined his team-mates, and rightly so, because this maligned figure has done himself credit at Euro 2012 and did not deserve to end his tournament generating headlines of the wrong sort.

Andrea Pirlo, another star of the tournament, sank along with his colleagues in the face of Spain's brilliance but he, like the rest of Italy coach Cesare Prandelli's squad, can hold his head high. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon's acceptance of Spain's superiority was gracious and befitting his role as a statesman of the game.

Kiev's Olympic Stadium may have been in darkness in the small hours, but the manner of Spain's win in the Euro 2012 final will bathe it in light for a long time to come.

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