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Putting Spain's dominance in the Euro 2012 championship game in historical context

As Juan Mata coolly slotted home the final goal of Spain's 4-0 demolition of Italy in the Euro 2012 championship game, I could not help thinking about how lucky we all are to be able to watch a team of such style and grace triumph over all opposition.

Putting Spain's dominance in the Euro 2012 championship game in historical context

As Juan Mata coolly slotted home the final goal of Spain's 4-0 demolition of Italy in the Euro 2012 championship game, I could not help thinking about how lucky we all are to be able to watch a team of such style and grace triumph over all opposition.

So often we see teams win games by doing what is necessary, not what is possible. Spain took the latter path, and though it was often harder, it resulted in victory.

In players like Mata, David Silva, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández, Spain have assembled a group of players that not only wins, but makes the game genuinely fun to watch. Even star-struck Fernando Torres has has his moments of glory in this tournament, recording three goals and one assist to claim the Golden Boot award.

La Roja's victory gave the national team an unprecedented place in soccer history. Until now, no team had ever won back-to-back European championships, and no team had ever won three straight major international tournaments. 

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(The Confederations Cup is not counted as a "major" tournament because of how few teams are involved. But Spain's win today should only elevate the fact that the U.S. beat Spain in the semifinals of the 2009 edition.) 

Seven players have been on all three of Spain's title-winning squads: Iniesta, Xavi, Torres, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fabregas. You do not have to be a fan of Barcelona or Real Madrid to appreciate their incredible talents - especially Iniesta, Xavi and Casillas, who are the true heart of the team. 

In addition to the history that Spain made by winning Sunday, one other aspect of their triumph in the final caught my eye. It's rare to see a championship game in which four goals are scored, and especially to see one team score four times. 

Most tournament finals in recent times have been low-scoring, cagey, and often nervous affairs. Teams have been more interested in not making a mistake than in opening themselves up. 

I thought it would be neat to look at how many times the championship game of a major national team tournament has seen four goals scored, and how many times one team in a final has scored four times. 


FIFA World Cup

First contested: 1930
Number of times contested: 20
Number of times contested with one-game final: 19*
Number of finals with four goals scored: 10 (1930, 1938, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1978, 1982, 1986)
Number of finals in which one team has scored four goals: 5 (Uruguay 1930, Italy 1938, Brazil 1958, England 1966, Brazil 1970)

* - The 1950 tournament was decided with a final round group stage. It so happened that that the last game, Brazil vs. Uruguay, was for the championship.


FIFA Confederations Cup

First contested: 1997
Number of times contested: 6
Number of times contested with one-game final: 6
Number of finals with four goals scored: 4 (1997, 1999, 2005, 2009)
Number of finals in which one team has scored four goals: 3 (Brazil 1997, Mexico 1999, Germany 2005)


UEFA European Championship

First contested: 1960
Number of times contested: 14
Number of times contested with one-game final: 14
Number of finals with four goals scored: 2
Number of finals in which one team has scored four goals: 1 (Spain 2012)


CONMEBOL Copa América

First contested: 1916
Number of times contested: 35
Number of times contested with one-game final: 8*
Number of finals with four goals scored: 2 (1997, 2004)
Number of finals in which one team has scored four goals: 0

* - The Copa América has changed format a number of times over its history. It was first been contested as a tournament with a championship game in 1987. In 1989 and 1991 the tournament was decided with a final round group stage, then in 1993 the championship game format returned.

Before 1987, the previous four editions were decided by two-game playoffs, with one game in each team's home country. Prior to that, the tournaments from 1916 to 1967 were decided by a final round group stage. The number of times contested above reflects the number of times the tournament has had a one-game final.


CONCACAF Gold Cup

First contested: 1963*
Number of times contested: 19
Number of times contested with one-game final: 11
Number of finals with four goals scored: 3
Number of finals in which one team has scored four goals: 3 (Mexico 1993, Mexico 2009, Mexico 2011 - and yes, they beat the United States in all of them)

* - From 1963 through 1981, a tournament called the CONCACAF Championship was contested. It was biennial from 1963 through 1971 and quadrennial from 1973 through 1981, when it also served as the World Cup qualifying process. The winner was decided by a final round group stage.

The Gold Cup as we now know it was first contested in 1991.


CAF Africa Cup of Nations

First contested: 1957
Number of times contested: 28
Number of times contested with one-game final: 27*
Number of finals with four goals scored: 8 (1957, 1962, 1965, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1984, 2000)
Number of finals in which one team has scored four goals: 2 (Egypt 1957, Ethiopia 1962)

* - The 1976 tournament was decided with a final round group stage.


AFC Asian Cup

First contested: 1956
Number of times contested: 15
Number of times contested with one-game final: 11*
Number of finals with four goals scored: 1 (2004)
Number of finals in which one team has scored four goals: 0

* - The 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968 tournaments were decided with a final round group stage.


Oceania Football Confederation Nations Cup

First contested: 1973
Number of times contested: 9
Number of times contested with one-game final: 6*
Number of finals with four goals scored: 1 (1980)
Number of finals in which one team has scored four goals: 1 (Australia 1980)

* - The 1996 and 2004 finals were played over two legs, and the 2008 tournament was decided with a final round group stage.

I know those are a lot of numbers to take in. Here's my best attempt to summarize everything as simply as possible:

Out of 91 tournaments contested with a one-game final, 23 of those finals (25.3%) featured more than four goals scored, and 13 (14.3%) featured a team scoring four goals.


As a reward for making it it this far, here's one more little thing to think about:

Since the 2006 World Cup, only one team has beaten both Spain and Italy: the United States.

There was the aforementioned 2-0 win in the Confederations Cup in the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinal in South Africa, and a 1-0 friendly win at Italy earlier this year. That's a pretty nice boast to be able to make.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Reach Jonathan at jtannenwald@phillynews.com or 215-854-2330.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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