For decades, the nation of Spain craved international success. From a club perspective, the Spanish have dominated football for nearly 70 years. Following the groundbreaking inception of the European Cup in the 1955/56 season, Spain’s Real Madrid won the first five of UEFA’s biggest club competition. Spain’s dominance in this regard has not let up to this day. Spanish clubs have won the Champions League 18 times, six more than closest rivals England and Italy whom both have 12 to their name.
As a result of this, expectation and hope of international success had been understandably quite high. However, until 2008, the only international success Spain had experienced in major competitions came in 1964, winning the UEFA European Nations Cup on home soil against defending Champions, The Soviet Union. Four years later this competition would become the European Championship or The Euros.
For a nation so successful at club level, the lack of international success hurt Spain. From Alfredo De Stefano to Raul, Spain had some outstandingly talented players to represent the nation yet had only a European Nations Cup against a country that no longer exists to show for it.
With the exception of Mexico in 1970 – which saw Brazil triumph; England in 1966, West Germany in 1974 and Argentina in 1978 all lifted the World Cup on home soil as hosts of the tournament. Spain would have hoped to continue that trend in 1982 as they hosted the FIFA World Cup, yet the victory belonged to Italy as the Italians hoisted their third World Cup title aloft.
For over four decades, silverware alluded the Spanish as nation. In 2008, a new era encapsulated international football, altering it forever. Spain finally emerged as a giant of international football, though at that point in time, the clouds only hid the monsters true height.
Spain entered the Euros in 2008 under manager Luis Aragones. With a squad containing huge stars such as Iker Casillias, Carles Puyol, Sergio Ramos, David Silva, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, David Villa and Fernando Torres, Spain finally emerged from a major tournament, clutching silverware, to the beat of a tiki-taka phenomenon.
The Spaniards started the tournament as they meant to go on, topping their group with three victories over Russia, Sweden and Greece. The quarter-final saw them earn victory over Italy via penalties before easing past Russia once again in the semi-final courtesy of a 3-0 win. Fernando Torres scored in the final against Germany as Spain earned a 1-0 victory. After many long years, Spain’s huge wait for international success had finally ended.
Following their tournament success, Spain brought in former Champions League winner and Real Madrid manager Vincente del Bosque to take over as coach of the national team. Despite the change in manager, the tiki-taka football remained and so too did the success.
Despite a European conquest only two years earlier, Spain’s real opportunity to truly join the international football elite lay in South Africa at the first World Cup to be held in the African continent. At this point, no European country had ever won the World Cup outside of Europe. The reigning European Champions had history to defy.
Unlike their 2008 European campaign, Spain’s South African tournament started off with a shock 1-0 loss at the hands of Switzerland. Rather incredibly, this resulted in New Zealand emerging from the 2010 World Cup as the only nation to avoid defeat – their three draws against Paraguay, Slovakia and defending Champions Italy saw them finish third in Group F, not enough to qualify for the knockout stages.
The Switzerland result, however, became nothing more than a bump in the road on Spain’s path to World Cup glory. David Villa scored vital goals against Chile and Honduras to ensure that the Spanish topped Group H.
Bitter rivals and neighbours Portugal lay in wait for Spain as they entered the Last 16. A single David Villa goal saw off Cristiano Ronaldo’s side and it was the same story in the last eight as Spain eliminated Paraguay to march into the semi-final.
A young German side had enjoyed a fantastic tournament as Spain faced their biggest test of the World Cup so far. Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil had announced themselves on the international stage with the former going on to win the Golden Boot. Despite facing future World Cup winning opposition, the legendary Barcelona centre back, Carles Puyol, headed Spain into a 1-0 advantage before marshalling his defence to a clean sheet, gaining entrance to the final of footballs biggest tournament.
It would be the Netherlands who would meet their Spanish opposition in an all European final. Regardless of who won, a new country would lift the famous World Cup trophy, becoming the first European nation to win the World Cup outside of their own continent.
Despite the two countries involved, sadly the final did not become a game of total football versus tiki-taka. Instead it more closely resembled the encounter between Eric Cantona and a Crystal Palace fan as Holland’s Nigel De Jong Kung-Fu kicked Xabi Alonso in the chest. After booking De Jong instead of issuing a straight red card, the game dissolved into chaos described by the English referee, Howard Webb, as the worst two hours of his life.
After 90 minutes, neither side had broken the deadlock which lead to extra time. Following an out and out battle that resulted in the most amount of cards ever seen in a World Cup final, Barcelona legend, Andres Iniesta, finally popped up with a goal following a through ball from Cesc Fabregas. The Spanish had entered South Africa as Kings of Europe. They departed as Kings of the world.
It is a common idea in sport that winning a title anew is easier than it is to retain one. If you look at the Premier League, the last team to retain it was Manchester United in 2009. Until Real Madrid in 2017, no team had retained the European Cup since it’s evolution into the Champions League in 1992. Prior to 2012, no country had retained the Euros. It’s easier to reach the top of the mountain than it is to stay there.
Once again, Spain were out to make history.
The defence of their title in Poland and the Ukraine started against the Italians in a 1-1 draw. Despite not getting off to a winning start for the second consecutive tournament, Spain saw off Croatia and the Republic of Ireland comfortably to top Group C ahead of Italy and enter the quarter-final of Euro 2012.
The Spanish would dispatch the French comfortably as Xabi Alonso scored twice in a 2-0 victory that saw Spain march into the last four of the competition. The Portuguese blocked Spain’s knock-out route once again, this time taking their
The final of the European Championship 2012 was a repeat of Group C’s first game as Spain faced Italy for the second time in the tournament. The re-match could not have been any different from the competitive first match. David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres,
Spain had made history. Not only had they became the first team to retain the European Championship, they had also become the first and only nation to win three major tournaments in a row. After going 40 years without a title, Spain had lifted an incredible trio of silverware within the space of four years. The greatest international side of my lifetime.