Spain's glorious triumph at Euro 2008 was one of the stories of the year, and the manner of victory played its part in the makeup of Yahoo! Sports' Best XI from the last 12 months.
Four members of the Spanish squad that won the country's first major tournament in four decades made the list, which was based on performances during 2008 for club and country.
Narrowing things down to just 11 standout performers in domestic, continental and international action was no easy task. But here is our selection of the stars that rose to the top in 2008.
• Iker Casillas (Country: Spain, Club: Real Madrid). Casillas was inspirational at Euro 2008 and maintained his exceptional standards despite Real's recent struggles.
• Maicon (Brazil, Inter Milan). He is the best right back in the world and a pivotal figure for Inter. Fiery and competitive, Maicon is one of Serie A's shining lights.
• Rio Ferdinand (England, Manchester United). Possibly the best defender on the planet, Ferdinand helped United to an English Premier League-UEFA Champions League double and shows no sign of letting his standards slip.
• Nemanja Vidic (Serbia, Manchester United). Vidic doesn't get as many plaudits as teammate Ferdinand, but his technical excellence and consistency demands his inclusion in this team.
• Yuri Zhirkov (Russia, CSKA Moscow). Zhirkov made Europe sit up and take notice in the summer, with his powerful forward runs, crossing ability and resolute defensive skills.
• Cesc Fabregas (Spain, Arsenal). Fabregas held together an Arsenal team that was in danger of falling apart and was a key component of the brilliant Spain midfield at the Euros.
• Xavi (Spain, Barcelona). For years one of the most underrated players in Europe, the 28-year-old got the sort of attention he deserves with the Euro 2008 player of the tournament award.
• Esteban Cambiasso (Argentina, Inter Milan). Cambiasso provides an imposing barrier in front of the Inter back four and has put together the best individual year of his career.
• Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, Manchester United). Sir Alex Ferguson thinks Ronaldo will become an all-time legend like Pele and Maradona. A few more years like the one he compiled for United with 42 goals in '08 will help lift him up to that exalted status.
• Lionel Messi (Argentina, Barcelona). The little man is thrilling to watch and just keeps getting better. The 21-year-old has all the tricks and skills to go with a fierce competitive spirit.
• Fernando Torres (Spain, Liverpool). Torres made a huge impact after joining Liverpool and is arguably now the most feared striker in world soccer.
Weekend's Best XI
1. Get him an Advil
David Beckham has plenty to worry about just now. Will he make an impact in Italy, can he hold on to his England career and will wife Victoria burn holes in his credit cards in the fashion boutiques of Milan?
Now the midfielder's temporary new employers AC Milan have had to significantly beef up security for the club's trip to Dubai after reports the team could be targeted by terrorists.
2. Get him a beer
American Clint Dempsey was the hero for Fulham as the West London club grabbed a draw against local rivals Chelsea.
The former New England Revolution star has struggled for consistency over the past couple of seasons, but his tricky early flick and precise 90th-minute header ensured a 2-2 tie for the Cottagers. U.S. coach Bob Bradley will hope for more of the same from Dempsey when World Cup qualifying recommences in February.
3. Get him some earplugs
Ricardo Fuller ensured himself a heated reception in the Stoke City locker room after a spectacular moment of madness in his team's 2-1 defeat to West Ham.
After West Ham's first goal, Fuller was involved in an on-field argument during which he slapped Stoke captain Andy Griffin around the head. His actions earned him one of 2008's most bizarre red cards.
4. Four corners
• Do the political protesters hoping to persuade FIFA to allow a Basque team to play in official competition really think they have any chance of being granted their wish?
• Did prolific Australian Scott MacDonald just clinch the Scottish Premier League title for Celtic?
• How long before other smaller European soccer nations start considering steps like this?
• So which is a more effective piece of skill: the Ronaldo chop or the Messi loop?
5. Catch a flight to …
Beijing. Next year's Italian Super Cup, between the Serie A champion and Italian Cup winner, will be held in the spectacular Olympic Bird's Nest Stadium.
6. A round of applause for …
• Le Cong Vinh. The Vietnam star scored the winner as his nation won its first international title by beating Thailand in the final of the Southeast Asian championship.
• Mario Martinez. The Numancia midfielder won 150,000 Euros in the Spanish Christmas lottery, a nice bonus on top of his soccer salary of 200,000 Euros.
7. Get them a Kleenex
• Hull City. Head coach Phil Brown opted to embarrass his side by holding his angry halftime talk on the pitch during Friday's 4-1 defeat to Manchester City.
• Tottenham Hotspur. Harry Redknapp kept his players inside the locker room for more than an hour following their defeat to West Brom on Sunday to administer a huge tongue lashing.
8. Get ready to say hello to …
One of the highlights of Ricketts' career came when he produced a sensational performance for Jamaica in a friendly against Brazil five years ago. If he repeats anything like that form, he will be a huge improvement over this year's Galaxy keeper flops, Steve Cronin and Josh Wicks.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
Baggio Husidic. The University of Illinois-Chicago midfielder would have been one of the top picks in the MLS SuperDraft, but he is likely to head to Europe next year.
10. Get excited about …
2009, of course! With thrilling title races, an outstanding Champions League draw and the climax of World Cup qualifying, there is much to look forward to over the next 12 months.
11. Why it's good to be a soccer player
Manchester United stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs and Edwin van der Sar clearly aren't feeling the credit crunch. All three splashed out $300,000 on brand new Bentley Speed motor cars just before Christmas.
- Manchester United
- Iker Casillas
- Cristiano Ronaldo
- Rio Ferdinand
- Real Madrid
- Inter Milan