Aragonés gets it right for overdue win


If the talent was always there for Spain to lift a major trophy – and their record of perennially winning youth tournaments suggests that is true – then by sheer logic there must have been key differences in this shimmering squad that allowed them to take UEFA EURO 2008™ by storm.

Change of attitude
First, factor in a magnificent coach. Many will forget that Spain entered the finals with their media grumbling about the nature of two friendly victories over Peru and the United States. All the while, however, Luis Aragonés was refining his team, deciding that Marcos Senna, not Xabi Alonso, would start, and continuing the process of educating his troops. The message was: if you can play well and win, all the better, but if you cannot play well for any given reason, then win anyway. When that lesson was put into practice it produced a seismic shift in Spanish football – achieved by a 69-year-old who knew better than everyone else.

'Not much football'
When Sir Bobby Robson was coach of FC Barcelona, he would always cite the day his side scored seven times in a home win only to be greeted by the headline: "Lots of goals but not much football". It was endemic in Spanish soccer that winning was not enough and so the national team often defeated itself in search of style to go with victory. Aragonés taught differently and Spain bought the logic. Next came the realisation that if you are more technically skilled, fitter and more united than your opponents – and have the game already won – then you can add the brio and dash which Spain supplied in buckets and which prompted claims they now play 'total' football.

Right decisions
The engine for Spain's mighty victory in Vienna came from a run of 22 unbeaten matches since 2006, with confidence and attitude growing by the month. But this had to be fuelled by Aragonés making correct decision after correct decision. The starting lineup was always right, with the substitutes wisely chosen and introduced at the appropriate time. For example, midfielder Cesc Fàbregas was one of the players of the tournament yet he started only two games. And even though this was at the end of a long, hard club season, Aragonés chose to use double training sessions every three or four days – was it a coincidence, then, that Spain finished more strongly than every opponent?

Sweet harmony
Moreover, in an echo of Italy's 2006 FIFA World Cup triumph, an already harmonious atmosphere in the camp was enhanced by the courteous treatment of the press and the symbiotic relationship that developed out of this. Central to everything, though, was the unity within Aragonés's 23-man selection – whether it was because of those that were absent, or just pure luck that the group were perfectly suited to one another, their togetherness was the spring to success at crucial moments.

Perfect blend
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas and midfielder Xavi Hernández had told that the intense pressure of delivering for the senior national team could undo a Spanish title charge, as so many times before. Here in Austria and Switzerland, however, La Furia Roja turned potential into power, and this strength proved irresistible. There was harmony in the squad, the coach was the unquestioned leader, the media were onside, and the nation understood that Spain would play the Aragonés way. And here, the coach was fortunate to have wonderful individual players to bring his own work to fruition: Casillas, the leader and penalty saver; Fernando Torres, the worker who made the difference in the final; David Villa, the tournament top scorer; the inimitable Fàbregas; and talented youngsters such as David Silva, Andrés Iniesta and Santi Cazorla.

Golden boys
Some had honed their skills in the UEFA Champions League, others had toughened up in England's Premier League. However they got there, though, they formed a golden generation for Spanish fooball, with plenty more vibrant young talents already knocking at the door. This could be just the beginning, and if so, what a wonderful way to start.

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