Spain had never beaten Italy in regulation time in seven meetings in a major tournament going into Sunday. The only victory over Italy had come in a penalty-kick in the 2008 Euros quarterfinals when Iker Casillas saved two shots.
It is hard to believe that Spain is the great dynasty for one generation in the history of the sport. Not long ago the Spaniards were seen as under-achievers, long on talent but short on will. I've read articles in Spanish papers back in the day with Spanish observors fretting over a litany of losses in the World Cup and the Euros, brooding if there was something wrong with the way people were raising their sons.
That blather is over now that Spain is the champion of three straight major tournaments, after the 4-0 drubbing of Italy on Sunday in the Euro final. Even if the last two goals were accomplished while Italy was gassed, and short a player because of injury, it was still an overwhelming victory. Spanish players ran and Spanish players passed, and the lines met at the perfect spot near the goal. We are getting used to this art. It is hard to remember the misery of the past generation.
The most painful defeat came in the 1994 World Cup quarterfinals in Foxboro, Mass., when Roberto Baggio scored a late goal for a 2-1 victory. That match ended with Luis Enrique of Spain rolling on the ground after Mauro Tassotti cold-cocked him in the nose with an elbow.
The cheap shot from Tassotti remains tied for the most vicious play in World Cup history with West Germany’s Toni Schumacher’s human steamroller hip check that broke the jaw of France’s Patrick Battiston in the 1982 semifinal.
In those primitive times of 1994, the lone-ranger referee, Sandor Puhl of Hungary, got no help from his two sideline assistants and no electronic advisory from FIFA Central on a headset. He had missed the play and could only wonder why Luis Enrique’s jersey was suddenly flecked with blood.
Two sidelights to that ugly moment:
*- By the time FIFA caught up with the play, Italy was through to the finals, and Spain was long gone. But Tassotti received an eight-match suspension for international play, and was never chosen to the Azzurri again. It took Tassotti 17 years to shake hands with Luis Enrique, before a match in Milan last year.
*- In the video, as the Spanish players tried to alert the hapless ref what had occurred out of his vision, one Spanish player has the name Nadal on his jersey. It is indeed Miguel Angel Nadal, uncle and one of the great role models for that current Spanish sportsman, Rafael Nadal. And, yes, that is Pep Guardiola, then a Span defender, recently the Barca coach, milling around with other frustrated Spanish players in 1994.
The blood of 1994 was ancient history in Kiev on Sunday. Italy has been a perpetual dynasty since winning its first of four World Cups in 1934. It had a good tournament, in the face of soccer scandals back home after a disastrous 2010 World Cup. But after a long and painful path, Spain is now a dynasty.
The New York Times is running a Goal blog asking readers how they rank Spain with all sports champions.
Here, I want to congratulate Spain for joining the great soccer nations like Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy.
Much better to be remembered for rolling past Italy in 2012 than for suffering the cheap shot from Tassotti in 1994.
Your comments are welcome about Spain's coming-of-age. .