Kiev: Spain's talented midfielders answered weeks of criticism over boring play with a masterclass performance of attacking football that led it to a second straight European Championship.
Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas and David Silva repaid coach Vicente del Bosque's trust in fielding a starting lineup without a traditional striker by pulling the strings in Sunday's 4-0 victory over Italy.
The four players were involved in nearly all four goals as Spain's quick-touch passing and slick combinations — termed "tiki taka" back home — helped the world champions win their third straight major title.
"Even without a traditional striker they still cause a hell of a lot of problems," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said from the Olympic Stadium.
Del Bosque aligned the same starting 11 that he used in the opening 1-1 Group C draw against Italy, and despite routing Ireland 4-0 and beating Croatia 1-0, scrutiny followed. The world champions then beat France 2-0 and Portugal in a semifinal shootout, but the murmurs continued.
There was no argument on Sunday, however, as Spain showed its intent to silence the critics straight from kickoff with Silva capping a goal that involved all four players in the 14th minute.
"Everyone has his own opinion, way of seeing things. We're not here to say if this is the best way of playing or not," Iniesta said. "Tonight we were at a high level and true to our style."
The term tiki taka has followed Spain since its Euro 2008 triumph in Vienna four years ago and Spain used its attractive passing game to keep the ball and phase their opponents out of the game.
"What we do is difficult, but we make it look easy. It wasn't a walk in the park," Spain captain Iker Casillas said. "We knew that when you slip just a little but, people are there to criticize you. Now we have to enjoy this moment that will last a lifetime."
On the first goal, Xavi gathered at midfield and fed Iniesta on the run, with the Spain playmaker threading a ball to Fabregas. But instead of taking a shot, Fabregas carried his run deep to the goal line before crossing back for Silva to head home.
Xavi, who admitted he hadn't been at his best in Poland and Ukraine, certainly rebounded against Italy as he put Jordi Alba clear on goal with a perfect through ball in the 41st, and the left back scored his first goal with a low shot to the left.
"We deserved it, we were superior," Xavi said. "We played a complete game and perhaps the best of the entire European Championship. We made history and now we have to enjoy it."
Spain completed 815 passes to take its overall total in the tournament to more than 4,200. When Italy was reduced to 10 men following the injury of Thiago Motta in the 64th with no substitutes available, the Azzurri had no chance as Spain controlled through its passing with substitutes Fernando Torres and Juan Mata adding late goals.
Del Bosque started with Fabregas, who usually plays an attacking midfield role for Barcelona. He led Spain's attack three times at the tournament. While Torres' late goal ensured he was the tournament's top scorer, it was with Fabregas as a roving center forward that Spain played with the most confidence.
"I don't think there's one way of playing football. You have to find a way to score," Del Bosque responded when asked if his tactical decisions had changed football. "We have very intelligent players who we can trust. It's a balanced team and we have total confidence in our players."
Spain will certainly feel it can defend its World Cup title in Brazil in 2014, especially with talented youngsters like Mata, Santi Cazorla, Pedro Rodriguez and Jesus Navas available to carry the style forward.