Euro 2008's big winner: the beautiful game

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! SportsJune 30, 2008

Euro 2008 will go down in soccer history as the tournament of entertainment, the summer when the Beautiful Game rediscovered its beauty.

It was only fitting then that, at the end of a championship that gathered momentum in its third day and never let it slip, this spectacular event got the victor it deserved.

Spain's 1-0 victory over Germany on Sunday ended a 44-year drought for the proud nation, but on the wider scale it was a triumph for attacking football and for the game itself.

The World Cup in 2006 was a wondrous celebration, but at times it was agonizingly defensive. In terms of the regularity of exciting games and positive play, Euro 2008 stands alone in recent memory, with only Euro 2000 coming close.

Cast in the role of talented underachiever, Spain, for once, refused to succumb to the pressure and swept through the event with a style and rhythm that delighted its fans and seduced the neutrals.

"It was a long time since a team playing that kind of beautiful football had that kind of success," Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas told reporters after the game. "Finally good football has the success it deserves."

Spain wasn't stifled by Germany and it put on a masterful performance. The biggest surprise was that Fernando Torres' 33rd-minute chip turned out to be the only goal.

Luis Aragones' team had several more chances to add to the lead as the Spaniards carved through the German defense with superior touch and technique, and they remained true to their ethos of passing and possession right until the end. The final score was 1-0, but it was a thrashing.

Major tournaments have a habit of coming back to bite teams who peak early and Euro 2008 was no different.

Holland's surge through the Group of Death was a distant memory by the time it reached the semifinals, with fresh names like Turkey and Russia emerging as the new buzz. But Spain started like a house on fire and maintained its run all the way through. A nervous quarterfinal against Italy, which ended in a penalty shootout, was the closest the Spanish came to seeing their hopes shattered.

It was truly a team performance. Not even the injury to David Villa, the goal-scoring hero of the group stage, took the good vibe and spirit out of the team. The jubilant scenes in Vienna were a long way removed by those at Belfast's Windsor Park in September, when Spain's qualifying campaign stalled with a demoralizing defeat to Northern Ireland.

Back then, Aragones' grip on his job was loosening rapidly, and public faith in a young team that was seen as gifted but unreliable was at a low ebb.

"This group had some difficult times," Aragones said minutes after he had been repeatedly hurled into the air by his celebrating players. "But I knew there was a way to have great success if we retained faith in our objective."

Aragones refused to compromise on his approach and reaped the ultimate reward. As a result, Spain goes into the next World Cup standing shoulder to shoulder with Brazil and Argentina as favorites.

Given the age of the squad, this could be the start of an era where Spain competes for major honors over the next several years. But that is what was expected of France after 2000, and it never happened.

However the Spanish perform in South Africa in 2010, let's just hope the quality of play and level of entertainment will be something similar to what we witnessed this month. And that once again, football is the winner.