New reign as Spain end drought

2008-06-30 00:00

VIENNA — After just over three weeks of drama, shocks, comebacks and capitulations, Spain emerged triumphant from Euro 2008 to end decades of consistent failure and launch, perhaps, a new dawn in international football.

No longer can the term perrenial underachievers be used to describe Spain, as 44 years after they last won their continental championship, they are sitting pretty on the throne of Europe once again.

As ever, they had begun proceedings among the favourites, but Spain had the luxury of taking something of a back seat as there was much talk of Germany’s credentials and all the fireworks were expected to be set off in the so-called “Group of Death”.

World champions Italy and their beaten foes from the final in Germany two years ago, France, headed that group, which also included the young and talented Netherlands and Romania, who were considered realistic dark horses for overall victory.

Group C — to give it its official name — did produce the fireworks hoped for, but not as expected.

The Netherlands launched their campaign with a stunning 3-0 destruction of Italy, a result that all but ended Italy coach Roberto Donadoni’s two year reign.

The young, fluid Dutch team backed that up with a 4-1 demolition of France and even after making a swathe of changes for their final group game — having won the group — they still beat Romania 2-0.

France and Italy met in an all or nothing clash in their final group game and a rash challenge from Eric Abidal on Luca Toni in the box gave the world champions a penalty and a man advantage.

Andrea Pirlo duly gave them the lead from 12 yards and Italy went on to beat the 10 men 2-0, and avoid the humiliation of early elimination.

For France, there was the realisation, two years too late, that this side had come to the end of the road and needed an overhaul — on both the playing and coaching side.

Elsewhere, holders Greece demonstrated that their unlikely victory four years ago really was an anomaly and lost all three of their group games.

Portugal proved tantalising and entertaining in their first two matches, winning both of them and their group before resting almost all their first-choice starters for their final match, allowing co-hosts Switzerland the satisfaction of a victory.

Turkey proved unshakeable, coming back from 1-0 down to beat Switzerland 2-1 and 2-0 down to topple the Czech Republic 3-2 and make the last eight.

Germany were upset by Croatia, but still made it into the knock-out stages, where they exposed Portugal’s frailities in defence and under pressure. Like Spain, Portugal have also developped a reputation for crashing out earlier than the talent at their disposal should do.

Turkey produced their most miraculous comeback of all in the quarter-finals, conceding a last minute goal in extra-time against Croatia only to score a leveller with the final kick of the match, before winning the penalty shoot-out.

Italy’s win over France proved a false dawn as they lost on penalties to Spain, who banished two hoodoos in beating the Italians for the first time in a major international tournament and progressing beyond the last eight for the first time in 24 years.

The Netherlands lost their swagger and were overrun by the energy of a tireless Russia, but they were found out by Spain in the semi-finals.

Quality proved the better substance as the Spaniards won 3-0 having already defeated the Eastern Europeans 4-1 in the group stages.

The fires of Turkey’s charmed life were extinguished by Germany who proved they too can fight to the bitter end, scoring a last minute winner after a thrilling match that ended 3-2.

And so to the final between Spain and Germany and, once again, class told as the talented pass masters from the Iberian peninsular controlled their opponents and finally buried the demons of their past failures with a 1-0 victory thanks to a sublime finish from Fernando Torres.

No one could deny Spain were worthy winners, with even Germany coach Joachim Loew admitting they had deserved it.

And now it is on to World Cup qualifying with a certain changing of the guard taking place in the sport.

Exciting times are surely ahead, not least for Spain, although it remains to be seen if new boss Vicente Del Bosque can instil the self-belief that Luis Aragones harvested.

And the other question on everyone’s lips is: Under Fabio Capello, can football’s new perrenial underachievers, England, finally end their 44-year trophy hurt?

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