Two years after Spain finally delivered on their perennial promise to win UEFA EURO 2008, a new set of heroes will be asked to emerge onto the national-team stage as UEFA European Football Championship qualifying begins this week.
It was on 29 June 2008 that Spain's 44-year wait for an international trophy ended thanks to a solitary Fernando Torres goal against Germany in Vienna. As of 11 August there will be many pretenders lining up to take their crown, yet any claimant to the European title available at UEFA EURO 2012 will do well to remember La Furia Roja's show of class and strength in Austria and Switzerland.
The moment Torres darted past Philipp Lahm before shooting beyond advancing Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, brought confirmation that Spain were at last realising all their potential. Where preceding generations had marched in vain, Luis Aragonés's team positively processed in a campaign nourished as much by squad harmony as by on-field talent. They dazzled with pace, passing and power en route to lifting Spain's first trophy since the 1964 UEFA European Championship.
If midfielders Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta – the side's match-winner in their 2010 FIFA World Cup final triumph – controlled Spain's rhythm through speed of thought and precise distribution, strike pair David Villa and Torres supplied the cutting edge. Spain had signalled their intent from the off, starting Group D with a 4-1 victory over Russia. Villa, prefiguring his subsequent World Cup exploits by finishing as UEFA EURO 2008 top scorer, hit a hat-trick.
He and Torres registered again as Sweden were overcome 2-1 before titleholders Greece fell by the same scoreline. While those three group successes set Spanish pulses racing, optimism really turned to belief after the team saw off quarter-final opponents Italy, the world champions, on penalties to reach the semi-finals.
Spain had not been the only side to catch the eye in an Alpine tournament where attack dominated defence. The Netherlands had overpowered Italy 3-0 and France 4-1 in back-to-back group matches as Marco van Basten's men made light work of illustrious opposition. The Oranje, however, were beaten at their own game in the last eight. Guus Hiddink's Russia, inspired by Andrei Arshavin, prevailed 3-1 after extra time.
The Russian team's surprise run was curtailed in Vienna where Spain confirmed their place in the final with a 3-0 triumph. Their opponents, Germany, had made themselves at home on neighbouring soil while co-hosts Austria and Switzerland floundered. Joachim Löw's charges had beaten Poland before a defeat by Croatia heralded a tense group-stage finale against Austria which they edged 1-0.
Yet if Germany had hitherto laboured, they found their stride against Portugal in the quarter-finals – jumping into a 2-0 lead within 26 minutes before emerging as 3-2 victors. More drama followed in the last four as they outlasted Turkey by the same scoreline.
Fatih Terim's side had illuminated the championship with successive last-gasp victories over Switzerland, Czech Republic and Croatia to make the semi-finals. In Basel, however, they were the ones nursing broken hearts after Lahm struck in the 90th minute to send Germany through.
The same German player appeared to have Xavi's pass covered when the midfielder sought out Torres 33 minutes into the Vienna final, yet as so often during a memorable month for Aragonés's team, the Spaniard mastered the situation better to make a decisive and winning contribution.
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