Spain made winning Euro 2008 look decidedly easy, but a major tournament triumph does not come by accident. Here’s how Spain’s first big title in 44 years came about.
1. Game plan. Spain concentrated on doing what they do best, namely keeping the ball and letting their rivals exhaust themselves trying to win it back. It meant tough decisions for coach Luis Aragones, who left good, but less technically gifted footballers at home.
Aragones built his team around the creative talents who came up through the Barcelona youth teams—Xavi, Iniesta, and Fabregas—and stuck with them to the end.
2. Team spirit. This Spain team doesn’t believe in galacticos—stars who are bigger than the team itself. This wasn’t Ballack’s Germany, Beckham’s England, or Ronaldo’s Portugal.
This was Spain’s Spain. When asked why David Villa was left out for the game against Greece when the Valencia striker might have made all but certain of finishing as top scorer, Aragones said he wasn’t after individual awards, it was a collective trophy that he sought.
It’s the main reason why he left Raul at home.
3. Generosity. Players like Marco Senna ran their hearts out to let the more creative midfielders shine. Villa was the team’s first defender, and captain Iker Casillas invited everybody to his room to play cards at night. The collective was again above the individual.
4. Concentration. Spain made sure they were never distracted at this tournament. I didn’t seen a photo of any WAG and after reading British and Spanish newspapers every day of the tournament, the only reference to family and friends I have is the news of Casillas’s mother fainting in the penalty shoot-out against Italy. There was no circus surrounding the Spanish camp.
5. Bravery. Aragones didn’t hesitate to remove the likes of Torres, Xavi, Iniesta, and Fabregas when the team needed it. Torres complained in the first match and he was silenced.
6. International experience. Players such as Torres and Fabregas were decisive in the wins against Italy and Germany. The success they and other players have had in England helped the team shrug off Spain’s old inferiority complex.
7. Equilibrium. The team has been strong in all areas. Casillas and the defence were the heroes against Italy. The creative midfield beat Russia, with Xavi and Silva both scoring in the semi final. And it was the strikers, Torres and Villa, who sealed victory in the first and last matches.
All lines contributed. It was a triumph of the team and of team spirit.