Fernando Torres was the hero of the night as Spain defeated Germany in the final of UEFA EURO 2008 and ended a 44-year trophy drought in the process. No sooner had the final whistle blown than jubilant supporters started spilling out onto the streets to celebrate a historic, not to say stylish, triumph that has rekindled the love affair between the fans and La Roja.
"They've been very consistent," said Germany coach
Joachim Low afterwards. "They played in the final just as
they've done throughout the tournament and they deserve to be
Under the tutelage of Luis Aragones, Spain have produced captivating performances in each of their six games in Austria, serving up quality attacking football every time. "That's what any football lover wants to see," said the proud coach. "A lot of people will start looking at this Spain side now because they're an example of how the game should be played. All you have to do to make this team champions is manage them properly. We've won in style."
The Wise Man of Hortaleza, as he is known, has brought together one of the finest generations of players the country has ever known. At the ripe old age of 69 years and 337 days he has became the oldest coach ever to lift the European Championship, an achievement sealed with a win that took their unbeaten run to 22 matches, a purple patch that includes 19 victories and stretches back to November 2006 and a 1-0 loss to Romania.
The future looks bright
Aragones put his faith in youth. And while the heroes of Vienna were the third youngest squad in the whole tournament, what they lacked in experience they more than made up for in enthusiasm and impish cheek as they surged to the continental title. Despite their tender age, these "little madmen", as they have been dubbed in the press, are the heartbeats of their club sides. Cesc Fabregas, one of the stars of the tournament, is the stylish leader of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal outfit, while Sunday evening's matchwinner, Fernando Torres, forms the backbone of the Liverpool team along with compatriots Jose Reina, Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa.
At the back the team is superbly marshalled by Iker Casillas, Carles Puyol, Marcos Senna and Carlos Marchena, all of whom have plenty of international football left in them, as have Xavi Hernandez, Joan Capdevilla, Sergio Ramos, Alonso and David Villa, who have all come into their own over the last three weeks. This tightly knit unit can also call on a host of talented youngsters in Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Santi Cazorla, Sergio Garcia, Ruben de la Red and Fernando Navarro, assuring a promising future for the boys in red.
Poetry in motion
The Spaniards backed up their midfield artistry with goals, 12 of them in all, making them the most potent team in the competition. David Villa, who ended the tournament as top scorer with four goals, was ably assisted by his versatile team-mates, with Torres and Dani Guiza both scoring twice and Cesc, De la Red, Xavi and Silva contributing with a goal apiece. With their compelling performances, the new Spanish breed made sure seasoned goal-getters such as Raul Gonzalez and Raul Tamudo were not missed.
"We've put together a team that plays really well, that moves the ball around nicely and is difficult to stop," explained Aragones. "We need to have possession of the ball. We suffer if we don't have it, but when we do we have more chance of scoring."
The key to success was undoubtedly the supremely gifted midfield engine room. Xavi, named by UEFA as the Player of the Tournament, weaved magical patterns with Iniesta and Silva, while the inspirational Brazil-born Senna provided both security at the back and an extra option going forward. "With this win we've rubbished a few theories that say physical strength comes first," said Xavi. ."
Such are Spain's midfield riches that Aragones could afford to leave players of the calibre of Xabi Alonso and Fabregas on the bench. Time and again the Arsenal man unzipped his tracksuit to play a vital role in his side's progress, most notably in the semi-final against Russia when he came on in place of the injured Villa and laid on two goals with his crisp passing. Another support act to impress was the two-footed Cazorla, who provided an infusion of energy with his incisive running whenever he was introduced into the fray.
And when Aragones rested his first string for the third group match against Greece, the understudies rose to the occasion to send the deposed champions packing with a 2-1 win. Academic as the result was, it nevertheless augured well for a team who bonded so well off the pitch that they proved unstoppable on it.
The best form of defence is attack
"The Spanish are so technically gifted," enthused Low after the final. "They are committed to playing to a very high standard, even the youngsters. And when they have the ball they are very strong."
"We've won all our games and we've proved that attacking football does have a place," commented Villa, echoing the words of the Germany coach. "That's got to be good for football and it shows that we weren't wrong to commit ourselves to playing an offensive game."
Low was right to point to Spain's focus on precocious talent. Many of last night's champions formed part of the same national youth teams and have played and suffered together. Along with Marchena and Xavi, captain Casillas was a member of the side that won the FIFA World Youth Championship Nigeria 1999, and others like Iniesta, Cesc, Silva, Torres, Raul Albiol and Reina grew accustomed to success at an early age.
Another vital component in Spain's triumphant campaign was
their defensive solidity, Casillas and Co conceding only three
goals in their six games, making them the tightest defence in the
"We have shown the world that after so many disappointments an attacking philosophy still has its place in football," said the keeper, Spain's saviour in the shootout win over Italy. "This win could be so important for Spanish players as it will make them believe in themselves and in the way they play."
Perhaps the biggest area of concern before the tournament was the defence. Even so, the centre-half pairing of Marchena and Puyol went from strength to strength as the tournament went on and impassively barred the way to goal for more than a few strikers. Joan Capdevilla kept things tight on the left and fellow full-back Sergio Ramos recovered from a shaky start to regain his rampaging form of old, blocking off would-raiders down the right and racing up the flank at any opportunity to engineer some mayhem at the other end.
Time for tributes
Having waited so long for something to celebrate, Spanish fans understandably partied long into the night, with many deciding to continue the festivities by welcoming the victors back to Madrid. As for the players themselves, the celebrations started on the pitch at the Ernst Happel Stadium and involved some heartfelt dedications. Sergio Ramos pulled on a T-shirt bearing a photograph of his friend and former Sevilla team-mate Antonio Puerta, who died last August, while Casillas dedicated the win to long-standing team doctor Genaro Borras, who passed away recently.
Midfield hero Senna wrapped himself in a Villarreal flag in tribute to the team that has helped him make his name in Spain, while third keeper Andres Palop went up to collect his winner's medal sporting the jersey ex- Seleccion keeper Luis Arconada wore in the 1984 final against France, a game in which he famously allowed a Michel Platini free kick to slither underneath his body and over the line. And when Palop took receipt of his medal from Arconada's executioner, the UEFA President could not resist a little smile.