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Fatigue, injuries finally slow Italy in Euro final

By Andrew Dampf

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 1 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

Italy's Thiago Motta receives assistance during the Euro 2012 soccer championship final between Spain and Italy in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, July 1, 2012.

Jon Super, Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine — Fatigue finally caught up with Italy. Forced by injuries to end the match with 10 men, the Azzurri had no answer for Spain's passing wizardry in the European Championship final.

Even "Super" Mario Balotelli couldn't break free to rescue the Azzurri this time, and the result, a 4-0 loss, was the most lopsided final in tournament history, eclipsing West Germany's 3-0 win over the Soviet Union in 1972.

Still, for a squad that entered this tournament without any big expectations and was hobbled by a match-fixing scandal, Italy can hardly be disappointed with a runner-up finish.

But coach Cesare Prandelli couldn't have been pleased with the way his squad sat back with eight men behind the ball in the opening quarter hour, which led to David Silva's opening goal in the 14th minute.

Seven minutes later, Italy's dependable right back Giorgio Chiellini limped off with an apparent left hamstring injury, the same problem that kept him out of the quarterfinal victory over England.

Midfielder Daniele De Rossi, who had to exit the England match with a sciatic nerve problem, also appeared far from 100 percent, and Spain defender Jordi Alba made it 2-0 in the 41st, racing past Leonardo Bonucci and shooting around helpless Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

De Rossi and defender Andrea Barzagli were so exhausted before the match that they didn't even take part in Saturday's final training session. Also, for the second consecutive game Prandelli presented his match strategy to the squad on video, simply because the team did not have enough energy to do it on the pitch.

Prandelli has preached an attack-at-all-costs mentality much like Spain, but after requiring 120 minutes and a shootout to beat England in the quarterfinals, then another physical victory over Germany in the semifinals, the strategy appeared to take its toll.

While Antonio Cassano threatened occasionally in the first half, he was then replaced by Antonio Di Natale to start the second half. Having had minor heart surgery in November, Cassano was out for more than five months. He returned in April and still does not have more than an hour in his legs.

Di Natale provided a brief spark at the start of the second half, but when midfielder Thiago Motta fell to the pitch untouched grasping his right hamstring on the hour mark, it spelled the end for Italy's comeback chances.

Motta, who had some physical problems in training last week, had to be carried off on a stretcher, and Italy had already used all three of its substitutions, leaving the Azzurri with 10 men.

Balotelli's best chance came midway through the first half, but Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas pushed Federico Balzaretti's cross away just as the 21-year-old striker was lining up a header from close range.

A goal would have given Balotelli sole possession of the tournament scoring lead. Still, his three goals left him level with four other players, and give Italy hope for the future.

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