At least this has the look, not just the feel, of a major final.
So many of football's showpiece occasions have failed to live up to expectations in recent years that there was almost a wariness of a similar anti-climax ahead of this Euro 2012 final in Kiev. At the time of starting this column, in the early minutes of the second half, the game so far has been worthy of the occasion, even with Spain 2-0 up and very well positioned to successfully defend their continental crown while also solidifying the status as world champions, a title they earned in a forgettable World Cup final two years ago against The Netherlands in South Africa.
That terrible decider at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, decided in extra-time by Andres Iniesta's opportunistic strike, remains the standard by which massive disappointments are measured in the football world, although the 2006 final between Italy and France wasn't far behind, a game decided in a penalty shootout in the Italians' favour but remembered more for 1998 World Cup hero Zinedine Zidane being sent off in extra-time after deliberately head-butting Marco Materazzi in the chest.
Even the 2008 Euro final in Vienna, when the Spaniards' period of unprecedented domination kicked off with Fernando Torres scoring the lone item in the first half against Germany, didn't have the cut and thrust expected of such an occasion. Just as an aside, it's interesting to note that the Germans, noted for so long for their slow starts building up to an all-conquering crescendo in lifting three World Cups and three Euro crowns, have now failed to lift the prize despite playing some of the most aggressive and attractive football at the last four major tournaments (they were beaten in the semi-finals of this competition and the last two World Cups).
So it is in the context of all those previous massive let-downs that the first 45 minutes and the early exchanges after halftime were a real delight. Of course, it's easy to over-react because of the fear of a flop when two teams are actually prepared to play football, but it wasn't just the two goals scored by the title-holders, not just the manner in which they played with pace, purpose and control, but the fact that the Italians were hardly played off the pitch despite conceding those critical goals via David Silva's sharp 14th-minute header and Jordi Alba's first full international goal for his country, running onto a delightful through ball from Xavi Hernandez and beating the advancing Gianluigi Buffon four minutes before halftime.
Indeed, having forced a couple of good saves from Iker Casillas in the Spanish goal before the interval, the Italians had two outstanding chances at the start of the second half when Antonio di Natale headed over the crossbar when well-positioned inside the penalty area and then had a close-range effort beaten away by the Spanish captain coming off his line.
At that stage of the game, the Italians were actually the ones who had the greater possession, a statistic that would have appeared to be completely against the run of play, the scoreline and Spain's now well-established reputation as the contemporary masters of the passing game. It also confirms that a lot of these computer-generated numbers which are now a feature of television coverage of the game, are little more than just a talking point for commentators and fans because they really have little bearing on the game itself.
At the end though, with Thiago Motta having to leave the pitch injured and Italy reduced to ten men for the last half-hour because they had utilised all their substitutions, the 4-0 scoreline--the largest margin ever in a Euro final--courtesy of late easy pickings for substitutes Torres and Juan Mata, were almost cruel on the Italians for the manner in which they were prepared to take the game to a Spanish side that appeared intent, from the very first whistle, to make a mockery of all the criticism of their suffocating style of play.
It is a measure of Spain's almost incomparable class in the modern game that they were able to pick up the pace and play so attractively against a team noted for its often potent combination of skill, discipline and counter-attacking efficiency that all of the doubters were not merely rendered silent but quickly reverted to the other extreme: suggesting that the reigning world and European champions may now be considered the greatest national football team ever without even taking the time to draw breath and contemplate on the great and wonderful history of international football.
This is no different from all the hype over Lionel Messi's Barcelona because this is what the modern ultra-competitive media environment is all about. You have to deal in absolutes. You have to make statements that attract attention and stir debate, even if they have little or no basis in fact or can only be properly addressed with a balanced assessment of all the circumstances of the game in different eras and different competitions.
Back to the final though, and as I watch the Spanish, jumping and dancing having just received the Henri Delaunay Trophy from UEFA president and former French playmaker Michel Platini (how would the Spain of 2008-12 have fared against the French of the early 1980's?), there is genuine sympathy for the Italians, who more than played their part in the final...even if the scoreline doesn't suggest it.