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30 Jun 2008 09:34
“Football was the winner” is one of the most over-worn cliches in the game but it happened to be true about Spain’s victory in Euro 2008.
The connoisseurs will be able to sit back in years to come and simply say that the best team won what was one of the most entertaining and aesthetically pleasing football tournaments of recent times.
What made Spain’s 1-0 victory over soccer superpower Germany so satisfying was the manner in which it was achieved.
A team of highly talented footballers played the game as it was meant to be played—with the ball at their feet—and drew on their full repertoire of skills to overcome a series of worthy opponents to take European football’s greatest prize.
Spain did the game another service in that they finally cast aside the label of perennial underachievers that had dogged them since they won their only other trophy, the European Championship of 1964.
“At last justice has been done and the team that played the best football won the tournament,” said Fernando Torres who decided the game with a superbly taken goal that combined the guile and pace which has characterised the Spanish game throughout Euro 2008.
Argentine World Cup winning coach Cesar Menotti once famously said that Spain would never win anything at international level until they decided if they wanted to be “the bull or the bullfighter”.
Scores of previous Spanish teams have been caught between the two stools, but the 2008 vintage, managed by Luis Aragones, opted firmly for the latter.
Watching Spain’s cohort of little men use their skill and bravery to tease and torment a succession of physically intimidating opponents would have given bullfighting aficionados as much pleasure as anything they could ever see in the ring.
With Xavi setting the rhythm, his fellow midfielders Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas unpicked the defences opponents while up front strikers Torres and David Villa delivered the coup de grace with consummate style.
Aragones’s skilful young team had clearly not read the script about Spain’s reputation for choking on the big stage.
One of the reasons why was that this team is full of players who have no experience or no complexes about supposed underachievement.
Torres, for example, has been accustomed to beating the so-called big guns of European football at youth level.
After all he scored the winning goals in the finals of the Under-16 and Under-19 European championships against France and then Germany in 2001 and 2002.
Xavi, defender Carlos Marchena and captain Iker Casillas were all members of the Spain side that won the youth World Cup in Nigeria in 1999.
Every member of the starting XI against Germany has regular experience of the Champions League.
What also made the difference was Aragones. The 69-year-old former Atletico Madrid player coach gave youth its head.
He showed faith in his young charges, let them play the sort of football they wanted and used all the experience and expertise of over half a century in the game to build a team spirit and winning mentality that was more than a match for teams like Italy and Germany.
“Lots of people have looked at this Spain as a model of how football should be played,” Aragones said after the game, his last in charge before stepping down.
“It is a happy day for Spain because we’ve won the Euro in brilliant fashion.”
Few football fans would—or could—argue with him.
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