Magical memories of 2012 - Football: 'That night Spain played thrilling, bold, beautiful football'

1 July: Beautiful Spain smash Italy in the Euro 2012 final

Any win would have been historic. Victory made Spain the first-ever consecutive European champions and, even better, the first country to win three straight major tournaments. This is the most successful generation in the history of international football.

But to win this way? Spain certainly made some impression on the history books that night in Kiev. But nothing compared to the impact they had on one's senses. This was 90 minutes of thrilling, bold, beautiful football, the best this Spain side have ever played. It felt like the culmination of years of work, for which the wins at the 2008 European Championship and 2010 World Cup were just preparation. In a sense it was.

It feels absurd now to point out that Spain, in the days before this final, were accused of being boring. Future historians of football may look back on the critics like those who doubted the eventual triumph of the internet or electricity.

But Spain were not at their best before the final. They were far from perfect in the group. In the quarter-finals they beat a dismal France side 2-0. In the semi-final they needed penalties to overcome Portugal, and Cristiano Ronaldo missed chances to deny them even that.

The final, though, was different. Perhaps Spain were stung by the suggestion that they were not as good as some said. Perhaps they raised their game because a trophy was at stake. Or perhaps it was thanks to the extra space gifted by an opponent trying to do more than just shut them down.

The outcome was remarkable. Spain played with all their usual delicacy, precision, charm and nuance. But they added what had been lacking too. There was pace, variety, bravery and surprise. Italy, through no fault of their own, were rendered entirely irrelevant.

With furious movement ahead of them, Xavi and Andres Iniesta are able to spot and play passes that no one else can.

That is how it started when Iniesta played in Cesc Fabregas – taking on the responsibility of playing up front. Fabregas tore past Giorgio Chiellini and whipped the ball back to David Silva, who headed in for 1-0.

The second goal came from a forward run from left-back. Jordi Alba, a 2012 revelation, stormed up the pitch. At the perfect moment Xavi found him. Alba took the ball in his stride and made it 2-0.

Spain with a lead are even better than Spain without. The greatest midfield of all time merrily kept the ball from their opponents, reducing world-class adversaries to chasing dogs, before picking their next moments.

Xavi played in Fernando Torres, who made it 3-0 in the second half. Sergio Busquets found Torres again, and he helped Juan Mata to make it 4-0.

It was one of the finest examples of control and domination one football team will ever display against another. It would have been a memorable friendly, but it was not, it was this wonderful Spanish side's latest history night.

Further reading:

Olympics: ‘Mo, Jess and Greg gave us a night no one could forget’ 4 August: That night in the Olympic Stadium - James Lawton

Football: ‘When Chelsea saw off Barcelona, the joy was in watching the spoilers have their day’ 24 April: Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (agg 2-3); Champions League semi-final second leg - Sam Wallace

Athletics: ‘The roar for Ennis made the hair stand up on the back of my neck’ 3 August: Opening day of track and field at the Olympics - Simon Turnbull

Rugby Union: ‘It was eerie seeing England sticking it to the silver fern’ 1 December: Manu Tuilagi waltzes to the try line as England smash New Zealand- Chris Hewett

Cycling: 'Bradley Wiggins' achievement was greatest we have ever seen from a Briton' 22 July: Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de France - Alasdair Fotheringham

Football: ‘We’ll never encounter anything quite like it again’ 13 May: Manchester City win the title in thrilling style - Ian Herbert

Football: ‘After losing the title in the cruellest way, Ferguson stood firm’ 13 May: United are denied the title in heart-breaking style Martin Hardy

Olympics: ‘Nobody personified it more than Hoy, the ultimate sportsman’ 27 July: Hoy leads out Team GB at the Games opening ceremony - Robin Scott-Elliot

Football: ‘An hour later Theo Walcott was a hero – given a standing ovation’ 26 February: Theo Walcott turns the jeers to cheers to steer Arsenal to derby victory - Glenn Moore

Golf: ‘This was it. The moment that would decide the Ryder Cup. A 10-footer for glory ... Get in!’ 30 September: Europe claim Ryder Cup in thrilling fashion - Kevin Garside

Boxing: ‘The fight was terrific from the first bell. It had urgency, nastiness' 14 July: David Haye v Dereck “Del Boy” Chisora - Steve Bunce

Tennis: ‘After Murray won he staggered in a daze, then held his head in his hands’ 11 September: Andy Murray ends Britain’s wait for a major - Paul Newman

Formula One: ‘Kimi’s Lotus win was F1’s most romantic result’  4 November: Kimi Raikkonen zooms to victory in Abu Dhabi - David Tremayne

Racing: ‘Frankel enlarged life’s comfort zone for us all’ 22 August: Juddmonte International Stakes; Frankel finally goes the full distance - Chris McGrath

Cricket: ‘A sweep for three and Cook had broken a 73-year-old landmark’  6 December: Alastair Cook breaks England century record - Ste

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