“Yeah runnin’ down a dream that never would come to me
Workin’ on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads
Runnin’ down a dream.”
When we measure a team’s title victory we have to take into consideration the entire tournament in question, and at Euro 2008, Spain was the most decisive side between June 7 and June 29. The championship was, at long last, theirs after a decisive 1-0 win over Germany.
The last victory for Spain – indeed the only victory at the senior level – was in 1964. Moreover, it had been 24 years since Spain was in a position to win a title, only to fall to a splendid French team 2-0 in 1984. A tournament that saw present-day UEFA president Michel Platini score a remarkable nine goals in five games.
Despite the long drought, Spain is not without some successes. Spain did manage to win a couple of UEFA U-21 titles and are the defending Futsal champions – for whatever that’s worth.
To what can Spain’s Euro 2008 victory be attributed?
For my money it all leads to one man: coach Luis Arogones.
Luis Aragones’ ability to manage not only on a technical level but on a psychological level as well, should have reminded people of Marcello Lippi’s brilliant adjustments and substitutions that were integral to the Azzurri winning the World Cup in 2006.
Aragones was no less impressive. It all started when he left Raul – an iconic soccer figure in Spain – off the team. Then, he proceeded to keep one of the world’s best midfielders in Cesc Fabregas on the bench for a couple of games. He also was not afraid to substitute Fernando Torres when he needed to.
Some may argue that it’s easy to manage a bench when you have depth. On the other hand, it can be tricky in manipulating a bench filled with world-class talent.
When all was said and done, this was a coach who had the pulse of his team down pat.
Aragones fostered a team spirit rarely seen with Spanish teams. In the process, he added a whole new dimension to Spanish soccer culture by demanding his team play as a unit.
And we all know how difficult it is to get players of Latin extract (French, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian) to follow rules. Latins are not as deferent to authority as their northern neighbours are.
Interestingly, much like Lippi before him, Aragones bows out on top (but not without a blemish on his record following his racist remarks in 2004 towards Thierry Henry) albeit for different reasons. He will be heading to Turkey to coach Fenerbache next season. While his team leaves a legacy, he leaves big shoes to fill.
The game itself was a decent affair with Spain pretty much in control the whole time. The only goal came off the foot of Fernando Torres who beat a rather awkward Phillip Lahm to the ball, and subsequently chipped the ball over German keep Jens Lehmann into the corner of the net.
The other aspect of Spain’s game that will surely be overlooked is the defensive work of Puyol and Ramos. Coming into the tournament there were questions regarding age and reliability. By the time it ended, those questions were laid to rest as both players excelled in all games contested.
And who was the key player for Spain? David Villa? Not a bad choice, but for my money it was Marcos Senna. Inserted as a defensive midfielder within an intriguing 4-1-4-1 formation, Senna was simply an outstanding and consistent workhorse during the tournament.
And so Spain has chased down its dream. Now fans must hope they can build on this and keep the momentum going in the future.
Note: It was quite a scene to watch Michael Ballack come up short again in a major tournament. Prior to Germany’s loss to Spain, Ballack came close twice in Champions League with Bayern Leverkusen and Chelsea.