On 6 September 2006, in entrance of 14,500 followers at Windsor Park, Spain’s serial underachievers as soon as once more got here up quick, losing 3-2 to Northern Ireland in a Euro 2008 qualifier.
No-one again dwelling was significantly shocked. This was a facet who had flattered to deceive for years. Since profitable their solely title – the 1964 European Championship – they’d simply as soon as progressed past the quarter-finals of a significant event.
Luis Aragones, the La Liga veteran appointed nationwide staff supervisor in 2004, had begun his reign with a promising 25-game unbeaten run. But as soon as once more the optimism disappeared, this time following a last-16 defeat at the 2006 World Cup by an ageing France facet many felt had been fully beatable.
Three months on, Aragones knew one thing needed to be executed. That night time in Northern Ireland satisfied him issues needed to change.
It was the begin of one thing outstanding. Within six years, Spain could be heralded as the most profitable worldwide staff of all time. This is how it occurred.
There had all the time been rumours about friction and battle between gamers from totally different golf equipment and areas in Spain. When they misplaced the European Championship remaining to France in 1984 following a horrible goalkeeping mistake from the usually dependable Luis Arconada, some even made the absurd suggestion that he had made the error on goal as a result of he was Basque and didn’t need Spain to win.
“There were a lot of players from Real Madrid and others from Barcelona – and when we got together, you noted a certain distance from players of different teams,” says former Spain striker Fernando Morientes of the facet he performed in throughout the early Aragones period. “There wasn’t the same togetherness in the day-to-day living that we see now.”
Politics wasn’t the most important barrier to success this time, although. First of all, it was the techniques.
Against Northern Ireland in Spain’s second aggressive match after the 2006 World Cup, Aragones realised that the model favoured by his predecessors – a direct, and even long-ball strategy – was not working.
But in an effort to obtain the change he wished, harsh selections needed to be made. Choices that introduced Aragones perilously near shedding his job.
Real Madrid famous person Raul was way more than simply one other participant. He was an icon. To many Spaniards, he was the essence of what they thought their nation’s soccer must be.
After the defeat in Belfast, Aragones noticed that Raul not fitted into Spain’s general plan. He dropped the striker. Madrid’s media went into meltdown. Axing a legend was unhealthy sufficient, however this was compounded – of their opinion – by the disrespect of not having contacted the participant personally to tell him.
Raul was 35. The Northern Ireland recreation was his 102nd for Spain. It could be his final. Aragones was unapologetic.
“I didn’t call Raul to let him know he wasn’t selected,” he mentioned. “He is not an exceptional case. The simple fact is that the players I’ve called up are most suited to our needs.”
While the supervisor set about attempting to reinvent Spain’s model of play, Madrid’s media sharpened their knives.
Defeat by Sweden and a attract Iceland meant the staff had been in peril of lacking out on Euro 2008 altogether once they travelled to Denmark on 13 October 2007. A loss in Aarhus would virtually actually have sealed Aragones’ destiny.
Instead, it went down as the night time Spanish soccer was reborn.
Former Barcelona striker David Villa, remembering the recreation, says: “We had everything to play for. If we’d lost, we would have been looking for a place in the play-offs at best. Maybe we wouldn’t even have managed that.”
Aragones’ Eureka second got here in the thirty ninth minute, when a 30-pass transfer culminated in then full-back Sergio Ramos chipping the ball over the Denmark goalkeeper for Spain’s second purpose. They went on to win 3-1 and certified for the Euros as group winners.
More importantly it signalled the arrival of the new Spain, outlined by passes and collective work.
Fernando Hierro, who was Spain’s sporting director at the time, recollects: “There was a lot of tension before the game because of the importance of that fixture.
“Denmark had been very robust, however we had been calm and Luis was liable for relaying that calm to everybody, saying: ‘Don’t fear, chill out, tomorrow we’ll win 3-1.’
“Incredibly, he even got the scoreline right.”
It was an enormous turning level that signalled the arrival of a brand new Spain, a staff outlined by their domination of possession and collective work.
Midfielder Marcos Senna sums up the change in model succinctly: “For the first time Aragones opted to go for the small ball players in the middle.”
The supervisor had examined the items he had at his disposal. Plenty of superb midfielders. Passers of the ball. He determined to make use of them – however he added a bit of spice as nicely. On quite a few events, he would say to Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Santi Cazorla: “How do you win games? Scoring, no? Why the hell don’t you score more?”
The seed was planted for a method that was stunning to look at, but in addition environment friendly.
‘Breaking our curse’ – Euro 2008
Having lastly secured their place at the Euro 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland, Spain had an opportunity to finish a 44-year trophy drought.
“I remember the day we arrived in Austria,” says left-back Joan Capdevila.
“We got there at midday and the normal thing would have been to get straight into training. But Luis told us we had free time until the next day. Imagine! We were so surprised: we’d only just got there and he was giving us time off.
“I feel we began to win at that second as a result of he knew particulars like these would deliver us collectively.”
After cruising through their group, Spain faced a quarter-final against bogey side Italy, who they had never beaten in a major competition.
“It added one other dimension to it,” says Capdevila. “They’re a prestigious staff and we had the hoodoo of all the time getting crushed by the greater nations. We would play nicely however we might lose.”
In the match, Spain dominated but could not score. It was 0-0 as the end of extra time approached. A penalty shootout loomed.
Aragones turned to his assistant Jose Ufarte and asked him to prepare for the shootout.
Jesus Paredes, Spain’s fitness coach at the time, takes up the story: “He [Ufarte] began to arrange a listing of penalty takers and when he had some doubts about one or two he consulted with Aragones.
“The manager said ‘show me’. He looked at Ufarte’s list, scrubbed it out and then put Cesc Fabregas as the last taker.”
Capdevila remembers Fabregas’ spot-kick completely.
“I was on the halfway line and I couldn’t see the goal,” he says. “Gianluigi Buffon was so big, he looked like a giant.
“I do not know how Cesc may take that penalty. If it had been me, it would have given me an enormous headache – and I used to be one of the senior gamers.”
Score, and Spain had been by means of.
Fabregas stepped up, and calmly slotted the ball to Buffon’s left. Spain had lastly crushed Italy.
Back in the dressing room, he was approached by Paredes, who said: “Great penalty Cesc – you regarded so assured.
“Jesus,” Fabregas replied, “that was the first penalty I have taken since I was 14.”
Alfredo Relano, former editor-in-chief of AS, one of Spain’s most influential sports activities newspapers, says: “Everything changed for me at that moment.
“After that, I did not have any doubts in the nationwide staff for the relaxation of the Euros and even past.
“It was like we had broken the curse and we were playing really well. It happened all over Spain. We shook off our pessimism.”
Hierro provides: “That’s when Spain became a dominant force. That was the moment we changed history.”
For generations of Spaniards, together with Jose Luis Zapatero, then the nation’s prime minister, it was a defining second of their lives.
“From people of my age, Cesc will have tributes and recognition forever because I am of the generation that thought we would never see Spain go past the quarter-finals,” he says.
In the semi-finals, a liberated Spanish facet performed with freedom in opposition to Russia to placed on their greatest efficiency of the event, profitable 3-0 to cruise into their first remaining for twenty-four years.
“A weight had been lifted,” Capdevila says. “In the semi-finals, you saw the best of our team. We had a terrifying confidence in ourselves in that match and we knew we were going to make the final, no matter what happened.”
It could be Germany subsequent.
The day earlier than the match, Aragones gave a staff speak that’s nonetheless remembered by the gamers current.
“He got us together in the middle of the pitch at training,” recollects Capdevila. “He said: ‘Wallace isn’t going to play.’ We were all thinking, Wallace? Who’s Wallace?
“I feel it was Xavi who mentioned: ‘Boss, who’s Wallace? Do you imply Ballack?’
“‘Whatever, I call him Wallace,’ Aragones replied. That broke the tension of the final because we all fell about laughing.”
On 29 June 2008 in Vienna, Aragones’ affect would as soon as extra show essential.
In the dressing room earlier than the remaining, he advised striker Fernando Torres: “Niño, get in between the two centre-backs so they are forced to drop off. Wait to one side of them and run in behind when we have the ball.”
Looking again now, it is an ideal description of how Torres would breach the German defence, working on to a Xavi by means of ball to attain the profitable purpose.
Villa says: “After all those dark days, when for one reason or another, your country is knocked out of the World Cup or a European Championship, that day the country let out a sigh of relief and said: At last.”
For Spain, it was simply the begin. But they might proceed with out Aragones.
Aragones had introduced in September 2007 that win or lose, he could be calling it a day after the summer season of 2008.
The Spanish Football Federation had his substitute lined up. A deal was in place with former Real Madrid boss Vicente del Bosque.
But when the Spanish staff’s aircraft was caught in air visitors above Innsbruck for about an hour on the method dwelling from their Euros triumph, the entire staff broke into continuous chants of “Luis – ¡Quedate!” (‘Luis – Stay!’)
Clearly moved by the present of affection, Aragones would have appreciated to vary his thoughts at that time and the gamers had been very a lot in favour of him remaining in the submit. It was left to Spain’s director of soccer at the time, Hierro, to make the determination. He caught with the authentic plan to usher in Del Bosque.
“I have no doubt in my mind that the manner in which I made my decision was correct,” Hierro says now. “My conscience is clear on that.”
On 1 February 2014, Aragones – a controversial figure however the man who lastly introduced success to his football-crazy nation – died at the age of 75.
Capdevila says: “We are all very grateful for what he did, firstly to bring together a great team full of talent and a great atmosphere and secondly to provide all his football wisdom. He was a sage. We all have great memories of him because he left his mark on all of us.”
Conquering the world
From the begin, Del Bosque mentioned he had the good blueprint for fulfillment. Even so, he modified round a 3rd of the squad for the 2010 World Cup and an additional third earlier than the 2012 European Championship.
The artwork was to introduce new faces whereas creating the feeling that nothing had modified in any respect.
Spain went to the World Cup in South Africa following an unbeaten qualifying marketing campaign with their inventory excessive. They promptly misplaced their opening group recreation 1-0 to Switzerland.
“It was a big setback and almost unthinkable as we weren’t prepared for it,” says Del Bosque. “We weren’t looking to apportion blame. If anything we were all to blame collectively.”
The emphasis was on not letting any self-doubts creep in, however pressure earlier than the subsequent match in opposition to Honduras was palpable. Villa would later say it was “the hardest moment of the whole World Cup”.
Qualification was nonetheless attainable with two victories in the subsequent two video games. Defeat would virtually actually have seen Spain eradicated.
Honduras had been crushed 2-0, however a draw in opposition to Chile in the remaining group match may nonetheless have seen them eradicated.
The silence earlier than the match, each on the coach and in the dressing room, was deafening.
Del Bosque explains the ambiance: “I had a manager many years ago who would demand absolute silence in the dressing room an hour before a game, with nobody else in the room to guarantee maximum concentration. But this is a group that plays loud energetic music to help get them into the mood.
“On the days of the video games in opposition to Honduras and Chile, you might hear a fly cross by.”
After Spain beat Chile 2-1, Del Bosque told his players they had four finals ahead of them – the last 16, the quarters, semis and then the actual final.
Portugal were beaten first, then came Paraguay in another of those crucial quarter-finals. Spain had never progressed beyond that stage in a World Cup. And once again the wheels very nearly fell off.
“Everyone thought Paraguay had been a staff we might defeat simply however nothing may have been farther from the reality,” says Capdevila.
The Paraguayans played as if their lives depended on it. Villa commented afterwards that “it appeared like there have been 20 of them on the pitch”. For Spain, it was a nerve-racking match; Iker Casillas saved a penalty and then Xavi missed a twice-taken spot kick.
“It was an insane recreation, a recreation if you knew that whoever scored first was going to win,” Villa says.
Del Bosque remembers it nicely: “At occasions my legs had been actually shaking, which is one thing that you just simply cannot management.”
Villa got the decisive strike, a bizarre goal that eventually went in after hitting both posts, almost as if the ball was trying its best to stay out. Villa said later it was “successfully a golden purpose, doubtless my most necessary one”.
Germany came next and, just as in 2008, Spain reserved their best performance of the tournament for the semi-finals, advancing thanks to a winning goal made in Barcelona.
With the teams level at half-time, central defender Carles Puyol mentioned to Xavi on the way to the changing rooms that, if they were to get a corner in the second half, he should float it in around the penalty spot as he knew he could soar and score exactly as he had done previously for his club in a match against Real Madrid.
Puyol headed in the winner in the second half to seal Spain’s third consecutive 1-0 victory in the knockout stages. It set up a meeting with the Netherlands in the final in Johannesburg.
Former prime minister Zapatero recalls his feelings before the match. “I used to be with my spouse and daughter and we had been a bundle of nerves,” he says. “We have by no means seen one another so tense. I’ve by no means seen my spouse so immersed in a recreation a soccer a lot in my life.”
Del Bosque says: “We had been defending our nation. But we had been additionally defending our model of soccer.”
Capdevila cannot remember taking part in a more physical game. “Maybe they thought we had been higher than them with the ball, and aggression was the solely method they may cease us,” he reflects. “But I feel it was extreme. I used to be very shocked.”
With everyone convinced the match would go to penalties – Arjen Robben had wasted a glorious chance for the Dutch in the second half – Iniesta’s 116th-minute goal rewrote Spanish football history.
“The ball got here to my ft and I had two choices,” says Fabregas. “Shoot or cross. I’ve all the time puzzled what would have occurred if I had shot. But I noticed Iniesta in an awesome place and it was the greatest second of our careers.”
“That 70 metres to the nook flag was the quickest I’ve ever run,” says Capdevila. “I’d even have overtaken Gareth Bale! But it was the strongest, most stunning second of my life. It was distinctive and continues to be very emotional to recall.”
Villa says: “We thought that this event belonged to a Brazilian, an Italian or a German and we by no means imagined somebody carrying the purple shirt selecting up that trophy. It appeared like one thing so troublesome, just about unattainable.”
Capdevila provides: “One of the most emotional experiences I’ve had on a soccer pitch was after lifting the cup and doing a lap of honour. I used to be in a position to see my poor long-suffering dad and mom crying in the stadium. My mom had paid 1,200 euros to return to see this recreation.
“You remember a lot of things, like when you were little and they used to take you to and from training every day. You realise the sacrifice they made and to see it rewarded in a stadium full with 80,000 people was almost unthinkable. Watching my parents cry was very emotional.”
Three in a row – historical past is made
Sapin went to Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine as favourites, however not everybody was a fan.
“Why don’t they shoot more often?” German World Cup-winning captain and supervisor Franz Beckenbauer remarked when requested about Spain.
Despite such criticism, they had been more practical than ever. In the phrases of Zapatero: “The final of Euro 2012 was arguably the greatest moment of the team built by Aragones and Del Bosque. The team was like a clockwork mechanism.”
No-one had ever gained a remaining as convincingly as Spain did, outclassing Italy to win 4-0 and develop into the first worldwide staff to win three consecutive main tournaments.
Del Bosque describes his facet’s efficiency in the remaining as “the best game we ever played”.
Hierro provides: “They saw themselves as winners in the Spain shirt and when they came together as full internationals, they were already used to winning.
“It was an exquisite and very troublesome factor that they achieved, to have such an awesome understanding collectively and that was because of Aragones’ gamble on so-called small gamers in Euro 2008.
“They were all very comfortable with each other and that becomes easier when you are winning, but the fact they were so comfortable with the philosophy and style of football made them very powerful indeed.”
Capdevila sums up the feeling of the technology when he says: “What I have had the fortune to experience are stories I will tell my children and my grandchildren in years to come.
“I’m determined to inform them already. I’ve been so fortunate. I had the privilege of sharing a dressing room with some of the greatest gamers in the world.”
But having made history, the dream of a fourth title in a row would soon die. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil signalled the end of the road for this all-conquering Spanish side.
Was it complacency from the players? Misplaced loyalty shown to the old guard? Or simply the end of an era for a team that had dominated world football over the previous six years?
It was in all probability a bit of the whole lot.
Del Bosque wanted to gift that generation a send-off on the biggest stage.
But the beginning of the end came in the same way as had the road to all-conquering glory; with a goal of stunning brilliance.
This time it was a diving header from Robin van Persie, an incredible finish that drew the Netherlands level after Xabi Alonso had put Spain ahead in their opening game. Spain would go on to be humiliated 5-1.
The simple truth was that for the side that will be forever remembered as the very best of its generation – one that reinvented the approach to the way football should be played – the party was over. But what a party it had been.