Spain Matures into Euro 2008 Champion

July 1, 2008 7:46:55 AM PDT
The skillful Spanish team that won the European Championship, lifting the country's first trophy since 1964, had been a champion in the making for years. Several of the players who beat Germany 1-0 in Sunday's final emerged from talented Spanish squads that won European and world titles at the youth level. They include Fernando Torres - who scored the winning goal - goalkeeper Iker Casillas, midfielders Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez and defender Sergio Ramos.

Now Spain will set its sights on the biggest title of them all as it prepares for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Spain never has finished better than fourth in the World Cup.

"The only thing I have to say to the manager who comes after me is to please treat them (the players) well and let them do their job," said coach Luis Aragones, who is expected to be replaced by former Real Madrid coach Vicente del Bosque.

The 69-year-old Aragones said long before the start of Euro 2008 that he would leave when it was over, and during the tournament reports swirled that he had agreed to take over at Turkish club Fenerbahce. He denied that, and then would not talk about it.

Spain's players hoisted him in the air after the final whistle at Vienna's Ernst Happel Stadium. Spain's King Juan Carlos congratulated Aragones and his players in the locker room.

"The king was as emotional as we were," said Casillas, Spain's team captain.

During his four-year tenure, Aragones led Spain to 38 wins, more than any coach before him. He recorded 12 ties and only lost four matches: to France in the 2006 World Cup, to Sweden and Northern Ireland in Euro 2008 qualifiers and to Romania in an exhibition match.

Yet he was harshly criticized in the Spanish media after the early exit from the World Cup, Spain's poor start to Euro 2008 qualifying and his controversial decision to drop captain and top scorer Raul Gonzalez from the squad.

"I've never seen a person have to go through what he has had to go through," midfielder Cesc Fabregas said. "He's leaving as the best trainer of the national team ever."

Much of the team's success can be attributed to the extraordinary talent of the players, who are used to competing at the highest level in top Spanish and English clubs such as Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Liverpool and Arsenal.

But Spain has had plenty of talent in the past, yet underachieved in major tournaments partly due to the lack of cohesion and winning attitude on the squad.

This time, Aragones instilled both unity and self-confidence in the group, repeatedly telling his players that no team in the world could stop them when they were at their best.

"We were all pulling in the same direction, without deviating from our path," midfielder Xabi Alonso said. "We had a lot of confidence in the boss and I think that has been fundamental."