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Iniesta and Spain ready to accept "greatest" mantle
Published : 01 Jul 2012 23:47:46Rss feed
'The Greatest' Muhammad Ali once said he "floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee" and now he seems to have found a worthy successor, although not in the ring.
Ali was astonishingly light on his feet for a heavyweight, while his footwork and movement was grace itself.
And yet his wicked hand speed ensured he also had a knock-out punch capable of felling even the mighty George Foreman.
And now in the form of Andres Iniesta there is a footballer whose own skills and prowess seem a match for the Louisville Lip.
Although slight of frame and quiet of temperament, Iniesta is a different proposition once his boots are laced up.
With a feint here or a shimmy there he creates half a yard of space even when surrounded by two or three opponents.
And then with a burst of acceleration he darts through a gap and into the space between midfield and defence, sending panicked centre-halves into an awkward back-peddle as his eyes dance around in search of a supporting red shirt.
With the precision, accuracy and venom of an Ali punch he fires a perfectly weighted pass into his supporting runner's path as the opponents' defence parts like the Red Sea.
In fact, it was a sea of red shirts that overwhelmed Italy in the Euro 2012 final here on Sunday.
Small, nippy but technically perfect Spaniards zipped passes around as the otherwise talented Italians failed to get a foothold in the game.
Iniesta was the tormentor in chief, ably aided by his fellow architect Xavi as the pair fed the likes of willing runners Cesc Fabregas and David Silva, not to mention the gallopping full-back Jordi Alba.
"For me, it's not that important to score goals," he said modestly afterwards.
"It's not the most important thing.
"It's always been like this for me. I'm very happy we're the champions again. It doesn't matter who scores the goals.
"It's not even important if you win the Ballon d'Or. I just want to enjoy what I'm doing and if people appreciate that, then I'm happy."
Iniesta was the man-of-the-match, but after a low-key showing in the semi-final against Portugal Xavi was back to his normal self and ran him close this time.
Each one was at his most immeasurably majestic in the first half when Spain opened up an unassailable 2-0 lead.
Iniesta it was who carved up the Italian defence for Silva's 14th-minute opener, delaying his pass to perfection to put Fabregas in behind Giorgio Chiellini, before the makeshift forward fired a cross at Silva's head.
The diminutive Manchester City winger reacted just quickly enough to direct the ball under the bar.
Almost as if he felt motivated by the challenge laid down by his club and international colleague, on 41 minutes Xavi produced an even better pass, delayed it even longer and weighted it even more perfectly for Alba to streak beyond the ponderous Italy backline and beat Gianluigi Buffon with consummate ease.
Stung by accusations of waning powers and a boring style they were a team on a mission.
Dazzling in possession, rapier in their attacks, regal in their control of proceedings, this was the moment to lay down their law.
Any reports of the empire's demise were very much mistaken.
In defeating Italy, Spain thus became the first ever side to win three major tournaments in a row -- notwithstanding the claims of Uruguay's 1923-24 Copa America double and Olympic Games gold -- and cement themselves as perhaps the only side able to rival the great Brazil of 1970.
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