ROME – Soon after Spain scored its second goal of the European Championship final Sunday, dejected Italians started slinking out of the Circus Maximus, figuring Italy didn't have a chance. By the time the fourth goal went in, it was more like an exodus.
In between, Thiago Motta was carried off on a stretcher with an injury, leaving Italy with 10 men.
That was when Alessandro Ciron, a 21-year-old economics student, knew it was all over.
"We had been optimistic," he said as he and his friends left the field, set up with giant TV screens, where Roman gladiators once fought and headed to a bar for a late-night sandwich. "We didn't think we'd lose 4-0."
Many fans simply conceded Spain was the better team, and that the Azzurri had been beset by fatigue and bad luck: Motta's injury and Giorgio Chiellini's earlier injury, apparently to his left hamstring.
"They were stronger," said Lorenzo Del Coiro, a 21-year-old wearing an Azzurri T-shirt and his face painted in the colors of the Italian flag. "We didn't have enough time to recover. And the few chances we had, we couldn't capitalize on them."
The Circus Maximus went nearly silent soon after Fernando Torres scored Spain's third goal in the 84th minute. But even then, Luca Pongetti, a 21-year-old basketball player, continued to wave his Italian flag, proud that the Azzurri had made it to the finals.
"No one expected it, and it's only right to pay homage to these players," he said. But as he spoke, Spain scored its fourth goal. "At the fourth goal, I put the flag away," he said, rolling it up.
Nevertheless, at the end of the game, a great round of applause broke out on the field in appreciation for a tournament final few Italians expected.
Many Spaniards were on the field at Circus Maximus supporting their home team and enduring occasional taunts from the Italian majority. One group of about five danced in the streets as they left the Circus Maximus, and were sprayed with water and pelted with an occasional plastic water bottle by embittered Italians. One was beaten by an Italian wielding a plastic bat, but wasn't seriously injured.
Paola Barisani contributed to this report.