As Spain attempt to make history by becoming the first side to reclaim the Henri Delaunay Cup and continue their current golden age, the man who masterminded the start of the era talks to UEFA.com about the game which changed it all.
After 44 years of underachievement, following their 1964 UEFA European Championship success, Luis Aragonés remodelled La Roja, instilling a winning mentality into their possession-based game. This came to fruition at UEFA EURO 2008 where Spain clinched the title with a 1-0 final victory against Germany. Ahead of their final against Italy this evening, Aragonés takes us back to that day in Vienna four years ago.
UEFA.com: How had UEFA EURO 2008 gone for Spain before the final?
Luis Aragonés: We had made a winning team, a team that were not satisfied with losing. In order to lose, a lot of things had to go against them, because normally they were strong, they could play, they were intelligent, psychologically they were a strong team. Even I sometimes was surprised by the mental strength of this team. It did not matter if they were facing better or worse players, they had extraordinary mental strength and it helped us to never throw in the towel and keep going throughout the entire match to obtain victory.
We faced Russia in the semi-finals and we knew it would be difficult. So we focused on the technical aspects of our positioning, we talked again about some important players. Importantly at half-time we talked about the fact that we were not giving everything we should give, because we were believing we could win very easily. Then we went out and played our best 45 minutes of the tournament.
UEFA.com: How did you approach the final against Germany?
Aragonés: Germany are a very difficult side to play against. I have trained lots of British players, and they have a lot of experience against Germany. I coached Gary Lineker, and I said to Gary; if two teams are playing, and one of them is Germany, Germany almost always wins. So everything, even details like that, the mindset teams have before facing Germany, you must get over that. We knew the difficulties we were going to have with Germany, that everyone has with Germany in finals.
Germany as a country has a very winning mentality. They may have more or less technical skill than the side they are playing but they know how to go and win competitions. So with all of this on our minds we knew we had to not only play better, but have more mental strength than the opposition, and to know which path Germany were going to take to try to beat us.
UEFA.com: What were your emotions during the final itself?
Aragonés: If your work has been good and if you consider that you have done everything you could in preparation all you can do is say, 'OK, well, here I am, I have done the best work that I could do, and now it depends on the players and depends on the orders I give them'.
We knew everyone had worked very hard, myself and the players, so we just needed to keep the work going. I do not really celebrate great joys, or great sadness during the game. When things get really bad, my head is working too hard to try to figure out how to get out of that, and when things are going well, I do not celebrate much, because the opposition could push us, and something could go wrong.
UEFA.com: How did you prepare the players for the final?
Aragonés: I took a different route to what they were expecting. I started telling them anecdotes about different players on the opposition, and about really important things so that thay could go out as calmly as possible. We already had our way of playing, we already knew our way of acting on the pitch. We knew we had to defend the ball and we had to attack with the ball. We knew that if we owned the ball, we owned the game. We tried to take away the nervousness and anxiety that a group could have before the final. We told anecdotes, and told them about the defects of some of the opposing players instead of their virtues. We took that route.
UEFA.com: What do you recollect of the final?
Aragonés: It started badly for us. Germany attacked us twice and caused us great difficulties. We were good in the organisation of our defence, but they attacked us more than we thought. We had talked about going out and pressuring them in their half, and wherever the ball was, so we could take possession and create openings to score against them. But that did not happen in the beginning. Germany came out more convinced that they could win. [But] by the half-hour mark [Fernando Torres opened the scoring in the 33rd minute], they saw that winning against Spain would be very difficult.
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