Man of the Match: Even without his two assists, Xavi Hernández would have been the game’s best player, providing his typical, metronomic, tempo-setting performance. He was the impetus behind a team that showed an uncommon assertiveness from the opening whistle, staking an early claim to their third European title. The two assists were mere symptoms of the constant probing and stretching he used to unlock Italy’s defense.
Packaged for takeaway:
- From the get go it was clear: This wasn’t the same Spain team we’d seen through most of the championship. Perhaps it was the occasion. Perhaps it was the knowledge they’d gained in their first 90 minutes against Italy. Perhaps it was Italy’s tactics. Regardless, Spain was much more energetic and direct than they’d been throughout the tournament.
- Two symptoms of that assertiveness:
- Spain was taking an uncommonly high number of shots from 20-24 yards. Xavi and Andres Iniesta each had multiple cracks from distance, and while most of them were blocked before reaching Gigi Buffon, the tried hinted at a markedly more aggressive approach – one that was willing to give the ball back to Italy.
- That same view was evident in the team’s willingness to try low-percentage through balls. Again it was Iniesta and Xavi, and again the strategy had limited early success. But these were noticeably more direct choices that Spain had made throughout the tournament.
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