From 'false' No9s to an outrageous penalty and an extraordinary defence, Spain's history-makers enjoyed another memorable tournament at UEFA EURO 2012. Graham Hunter looks back.
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Spain completed a memorable tournament and made history when they lifted the Henri Delaunay Cup again on Sunday. Some great national sides have tilted at this achievement, and failed. Not only is this the first retention of a UEFA European Championship, it is the first three-in-a-row combination of world and continental titles. Not the West Germany or Brazil sides of the 1970s, nor the France of Zinédine Zidane – no group of players have endured like those who started winning under Luis Aragonés four years ago and have now sealed their status as all-time greats.
In a nutshell
Put simply, Spain found solutions. If you are robbed of David Villa, the most prolific striker in Spain's history, then goals have to become a problem. While the debate fizzed about a 'false' No9 versus an old-fashioned centre-forward, Vicente del Bosque, Cesc Fàbregas and Fernando Torres just got on with it. Italy were pegged back by the former Arsenal FC captain, Torres burst into life against the Republic of Ireland, and Fàbregas was pivotal against Croatia.
A rare Xabi Alonso double dealt with France but Fàbregas popped up with the winning penalty in the semi-final against Portugal before Torres's late cameo in the final earned him the adidas Golden Boot.
Surely the Sergio Ramos-Iker Casillas double act against Portugal. One-nil down after Alonso's spot kick was saved, the man known as San Iker (Saint Iker) in his homeland saved one before Ramos chipped Rui Patrício in the most outrageous style imaginable. It was tide-turning, admirable and daring – hats off to Ramos.
What a hugely difficult task, but the winner has to be Del Bosque. He chose the double pivot style and stuck to it. He found solutions for the absence of David Villa and the slow return to form of Torres. Through all the difficulties he made substitutions which produced goals, he maintained a sense of humour and elegance and he deserves his place in the coaching pantheon.
Hope for the future
Jordi Alba, a novice on arrival, was superb and crowned off a wonderful tournament with a stunning goal in the final. What is more, there were very limited opportunities for reigning European Under-21 champions Juan Mata and Javi Martínez, though the Chelsea FC man came on and scored against Italy. Several of Luis Milla's U21 winners are knocking at the door of the senior squad but none of the elder statesmen seem particularly disposed to move on. The future looks bright.
Since elimination from the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Spain have played ten tournament knockout matches without conceding a single goal.
"I think it's very difficult to be champions once, twice is a lot more difficult, and three times is brilliant. I think that these guys have made an extraordinary effort and they have to be congratulated." Del Bosque sums up the achievement of his players.