Italy outclass and outwit Spain to depose reigning champs
(Giorgio Chiellini 33, Graziano Pelle 90+1)
The Spanish kings are dead. Long live the Conte.
Antonio Conte, that is, the Italian coach now collecting European scalps like a Roman centurion.
Spain boasted the better players, but Italy have the superior coach. Conte is greater than the sum of Italy's parts.
The man in black took on the otherworldly alien artists and ended their occupation of a tournament that began in 2008 and ended Tuesday morning (June 28, Singapore time) with a spectacular 2-0 defeat.
Stade de France witnessed the death of one party and perhaps the birth of another.
Conte has engineered a team of winners from misfits, journeymen and Juventus' defensive old guard, by fostering an iron will and a willingness to run superior opponents into submission.
The Italians really could keep on running all the way to Paris, after giving this titanic clash the performance it deserved.
After an unexplained security scare closed half the stadium for an hour before kick-off, there was an initial edginess to proceedings at a venue that was targeted during the Paris attack. But the tension quickly dissipated inside a wonderfully, cavernous arena.
The Stade de France isn't situated in one of the most picturesque parts of Paris. But the stadium is one of the greatest in world football; its circular roof keeping in the noise, if not the rain, which bucketed down on the referee's first whistle.
The weather gods appeared to conspire against the Spaniards, making short, neat passing difficult and favouring Italy's swift attack.
Conte made seven changes, as expected, restoring the regulars to face the unchanged Spaniards and the Italians exploded with the lean tenacity of greyhounds out of the traps.
Only two stupendous saves from David de Gea stopped Italy scoring twice in 10 minutes. The Manchester United goalkeeper hasn't enjoyed his finest hour at Euro 2016, but his reflexes are unrivalled.
He flipped like a salmon to tip Graziano Pelle's header around the post, but his second save was equally athletic, pushing out Emanuele Giaccherini's overhead kick.
The referee eventually awarded an (incorrect) free-kick, but de Gea's timely brilliance was warmly received behind his goal.
The Spaniards were outnumbered inside the ground, occupying only one corner whereas blue shirts were evenly distributed across the stadium.
As a result, every Spanish touch was booed, not that it mattered. Spain rarely saw the ball.
The rain eased off, but the Italians didn't. When Sergio Ramos clumsily brought down Eder 20 metres out in the 33rd minute, the tension was palpable.
Below the press box, Conte called out to the Italians and mimed a sideways shift, mimicking the decoy in the wall that moves aside to let the strike pass.
How the Azzurri complied.
Eder's low free-kick flew goalwards as teammates in the wall shepherded the ball through.
De Gea neither held nor palmed the strike away to safety, allowing Giorgio Chiellini to tap home from a couple of metres.
Questions will again be asked of de Gea's exasperating inconsistency.
Not that the Italians cared. A primal roar echoed through the Stade de France. The memory of that final hammering four years ago lingers. Wounds run deep.
The Italians were on Cloud Nine. The Spaniards were all over the place.
Only de Gea's fingertips kept Giaccherini's thunderous drive out as Italy charged down their opponents, denying them space and time to operate.
Teams are defined in their managers' image. On the touchline, Conte cajoled and remonstrated, demanding more from men already bullying their opponents.
Vicente del Bosque was conspicuous by his absence, cowering in the dugout like a reclusive pensioner not willing to come out for his retirement party.
Conte's swift, counter-attacking was working so well that even when Spain increased the intensity in the second half, the Italians still conjured the best of the chances.
Eder raced clear in the 55th minute, but de Gea scampered from his line to keep his country in the tournament.
At which point, a red light suddenly went off in the collective psyche of the Spaniards, a creeping realisation that they were half an hour away from exiting a tournament they had owned for eight years.
Andres Iniesta, so quiet for so long, smashed a delightful volley, only to see Gianluigi Buffon palm the ball clear.
Moments later, the Italian veteran was at it again pushing out Gerard Pique's effort as the game turned into a frenetic free-for-all.
Even Conte had no plan for fatigue. Counter-attacking and containing the finest football practitioners of their generation took its toll.
As the clock ticked down, so did Italy's depleted resources.
And then, unexpectedly, gloriously, they broke free on the counter-attack - how else - and Pelle lashed home a volley from six metres.
Italians had finally exorcised those demons from four years ago. Spanish football was going home.