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Reflections on the end of an era for Spain

Ever-present during Spain's eight-year reign as European champions, Graham Hunter salutes the changing of the guard after one of football's golden eras.

Sergio Ramos at full time
Sergio Ramos at full time ©AFP/Getty Images

Before a tribute to the departing champions, a thought about their conquerors.

It just had to be Italy. When Spain decided in 2008 that they weren't just contenders but were ready to win, they needed to beat Italy to prove to themselves that the golden moment had arrived.

As their rule came to a close in Saint-Denis on Monday, with Vicente del Bosque's men significantly outworked and outplayed, football's cycle of justice demanded that it would be Italy who dethroned them.

Defender Giorgio Chiellini told UEFA.com, rather emotionally, how after so many defeats and disappointments at the hands of Spain, his career could not end without exacting some sort of payback.

Andrés Iniesta
Andrés Iniesta©AFP/Getty Images

And it's from that theme, in my opinion, that Spain can draw some comfort and satisfaction to supplement the pure joy of having been, sequentially, European champions, world champions and then European champions again between 2008 and 2012.

In Italy they inspired an enormous thirst to better themselves, to vault over Spain – to commit to extra effort and super-demanding training sessions at this EURO so as to prepare tactically at their absolute maximum.

Spain, over their eight-year reign as champions of Europe, have elicited various responses in football, the great majority positive.

Del Bosque: We expected more

They've not just proselytised intelligent, technical, creative football which is pleasing to the eye; they've demonstrated over and again that it's feasible to practise that and become winners.

And to do it whether you are the physical size of Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and David Silva – or Fernando Torres, Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos.

Many kids growing up during the Spanish sovereignty will think differently about themselves and how they should control and use the football, and whether their physical size can or can't prevent them excelling. That's ever so healthy for budding footballers and coaches around the world. A proper champion legacy.

On the day the golden age ended, when Spain's leading football papers ran the front page 'No longer the best', David de Gea and Iniesta both took the trouble to commend Italy and admit Spain had lost to the better side.

EURO 2012 final: Spain 4-0 Italy

There's been a lot of elegance from the champions over the years. Humility in victory, acceptance of being bested in defeat.

Values to the fore – in sporting and human terms.

And while there'll be an elongated inquest given the Roja are uncomfortable at departing tournaments early, there's some argument to be had about not overemphasising 'what went wrong' compared with 'what's still right'.

If, as seems likely, this is 'adiós' to the Marquis, Vicente del Bosque then it's 'adiós y gracias'. Goodbye and thank you. One of football's real gentleman.

There are players of youth, verve and substance for the coming months and years – and it's time they showed what they have learned from the departed masters. Carles Puyol, Joan Capdevila, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Torres, Marcos Senna and David Villa.

The men who created one of football's great eras. It was fun watching them.

Highlights: Spain's 2008 glory