Four years ago Spain went into UEFA EURO 2008 as perennial underachievers, a side that consistently added up to less than the sum of their parts – how things change. La Roja triumphed masterfully in Austria and Switzerland, added the 2010 FIFA World Cup and on Sunday they will attempt to become the first side to win three successive major titles when they meet Italy in the UEFA EURO 2012 final in Kyiv.
The 44 years of frustration Spain endured after capturing the European title on home soil in 1964 seems a world away, but it was that success that started it all. In an interview prior to his death in September last year, Jesús María Pereda, the FC Barcelona forward, recalled a "dream come true". He described coach José Villalonga's unorthodox approach to the final against the Soviet Union and how the team spirit united a nation.
UEFA.com: What do you remember about the 1964 UEFA European Championship?
Chus Pereda: I have a lot of memories. The final was against the Soviet Union at Santiago Bernabéu. It was an impressive event and the whole of Spain was united. We congregated at a training camp about 50km outside Madrid and devised our game plan. Our coach José Villalonga mapped out a football pitch in the sand and used stones to represent us – and pine cones to represent the Soviet Union. He convinced us that stones were stronger than pine cones and that we were therefore going to win.
Luckily, we scored first. Luisito Suárez broke down the right and centred. The two Soviet 'towers' went up for the header. The first one missed it and collided with a team-mate. The ball came to me and my shot was so powerful it made me fall over. A quarter of an hour or so later, they equalised. Then, when there were seven or eight minutes left, I set up Marcelino who scored with a diving header. It was incredible. We spent all night celebrating and dancing.
UEFA.com: How did you feel coming up against Lev Yashin?
Pereda: It was strange because he had this aura of being superhuman but he was a nice man like anybody else. His positioning was impeccable and he was an imposing figure. He was invited to Barcelona a while later and I showed him round. He was really nice. And then I met him when I was coaching at the World Cup.
UEFA.com: Which team was better – the 1960 side or the '64 one?
Pereda: I don't think the team from 1964 was better. The 1960 side with [Alfredo] Di Stéfano and [László] Kubala had more talent, but it's not the names that count in football, it's the team. We were a good unit and had Luisito Suárez to conduct the 'orchestra'. Then we had great players like Amancio Amaro and Marcelino, who was a natural goalscorer. We also had [Ignacio] Zoco, [Josep Maria] Fusté, [Feliciano] Rivilla, [Fernando] Olivella, [Isacio] Calleja and a young goalkeeper called José Ángel Iribar. We were all on form and the task of the coach was to assemble these players and ensure they worked well as a unit.
UEFA.com: What about the antagonism between players from Real Madrid and Barcelona?
Pereda: We were friends, along with those from Zaragoza, Athletic and Atlético. Seven of the team were either from Real Madrid or Barcelona. We got on very well and we formed a national team that lived and played like brothers.
UEFA.com: But what was it like for a Barcelona player to take part in a final at Santiago Bernabéu?
Pereda: Exciting. I had played for Real Madrid when I was 18 alongside Di Stéfano, [Ferenc] Puskas, [Francisco] Gento and so on. But even I was impressed by the sight of the stadium, which was absolutely packed with people chanting 'España, España'. To be champions of Europe in an atmosphere like that was really a dream come true.
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