Spain finally reaches ‘goal’ of becoming Euro champion
Posted: Monday, June 30, 2008 6:05 pm
By: By BARRY WILNER, AP Sports Writer
VIENNA, Austria (AP) — Spain, European champion.
It’s been a long time.
It has taken 44 years, to be exact. With teams as talented as most opponents in the major championships they qualified for, the Spaniards always fell short. They were called underachieving, short on heart, even chokers.
With one magnificent month, Spain put all those shortcomings in the past, emphasizing its rise with a 1-0 victory over Germany on Sunday night in the European Championship.
“We are proud to see so many people enjoying it and we have peace of mind that we done what we want to do,” said Fernando Torres, whose goal in the 33rd minute was the winner. “It is to me the most important day in Spanish football in many, many years.”
Since 1964, when Spain won Euros as the host. The only other major final it made was the 1984 Euros, losing to France.
That all changed at these Euros, where the Spaniards swept their first-round games, eliminated World Cup champion Italy in a penalty-kicks shootout in the quarterfinals, then routed Russia 3-0 in the semifinals.
“We played the best for the entire tournament and we beat some great teams,” Torres said. “We beat Italy, the World Cup champion, and we beat Russia and now Germany. That is how you become champion.”
And here is how you celebrate a championship:
The entire Spanish squad ran over to the huge rooting section of red and gold, exchanging hugs, while many of the spent Germans collapsed to the turf.
When Spain goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas accepted the trophy on a stage, the Spanish fans began chanting the melody to their national anthem, which has no words. Thousands of camera flashes went off as the players jumped in place, then headed onto the field to show off their prize.
The Spaniards weren’t close to finished with their celebration that was so long in the making. They marched to their rooting section, hoisting the cup and saluting their flag-waving, firecracker-exploding fans.
“All those that love football want just that, teams that make good combinations, make it to the penalty area and score goals,” coach Luis Aragones said. “I think people will look up to this Spain and how we play.
“I said if we manage this group well, we will be champions.”
Against the highly accomplished Germans, the Spaniards weren’t intimidated. They got the one goal they needed — from a slumping striker, no less — and set off chants of “ES-PANA,” and “Ole, Ole Ole” at the final whistle.
“We have won in a brilliant way,” added the 69-year-old Aragones, the oldest winning coach in Euros history. “We will be able to start saying we can win, a European championship as well as any other thing.”
Germany has won three Euros and three World Cups, but was no match in this final. Captain Michael Ballack, questionable before the game with a calf injury, started, but hardly was noticeable — except when he left for several minutes to have a bloody right eye treated.
“We had a great tournament, but made one mistake too many,” Ballack said. “We were lacking of power against a great Spanish team. We couldn’t keep up with them.”
Teammate Thomas Hitzlsperger added: “Something is still missing in our team. We’re not sure what that is, but we have a lot of young players and certainly will improve over the next two years.”
That would lead to the 2010 World Cup, and Spain will now have additional expectations for the biggest of all soccer events.
“They are so good,” said Aragones, who coached his last game for his nation. “I hope Spain will go on in this way.”
Torres, who had 33 goals for Liverpool this season but has been invisible in Euros, came through off a brilliant feed from Xavi Hernandez.
Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, at 38 the oldest player in the competition, charged from his net when he saw that defender Philipp Lahm was beaten on the right side. But Torres chipped the ball over the sliding Lehmann and into the gaping goal.
The crowd of 51,428 at Ernst Happel Stadium, split almost equally between Germany and Spain, might have expected the Spaniards to go into a protective shell. Instead, and even without leading scorer David Villa (leg injury), they continued to carry the attack and were far more dangerous than Germany the rest of the way.
Indeed, Lehmann, who helped the Germans to third place in the 2006 World Cup, kept it close with several tough saves.
A crowd of about 68,000 packed Vienna’s downtown fan zone to watch the final, police said. In Germany, flags fluttered from balconies and car antennas across the country. In Berlin, an estimated 400,000 fans watched the game on large outdoor screens.