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Spain : The road to glory - Part One
After a disappointing World Cup in 2006, where Spain only reached the final 16, it was the same old story but with a twist, Spain were on their way to becoming the best international squad around.
Former trainer Luis Aragonés has to take the credit, as the man who turned La Roja into the team they are today. Many factors contributed to this success, the main one being a string of young talented players starting to take part in the team.
In the 2006 World Cup, Spain was head of series in Group H, they started the tournament with a 4-0 win over Ukraine, and they also won against both Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. But quicker than it takes to say Olé! Spain was beaten by France in the round of 16. Zinidine Zidane and his team overturned a 1-0 lead by La Roja to end up winning 1-3.
In 2008, Aragonés opted for youngsters (i.e. Sergio Garcia, Santi Cazorla) and gave bigger roles to players that had already been called up to the previous World Cup like David Silva and Cesc Fabregas.
To bring new young players in, some more senior ones had to go like Santi Cañizares, Albert Riera and Joaquín. However the most controversial decision came when Raul González - considered "Spain's number 7" was dropped out of the Euro 2008 list. David Villa, because of his good performance at the 2006 world cup, had become an integral part of La Roja.
This decision didn't go unquestioned, especially since Raul had been having a really good season at Real Madrid. Aragonés' decision to leave him out created speculation as to whether this was done to unify the dressing room. However this was denied in a press conference by the player himself.
It wasn't an Easy ride for Aragonés, if he wasn't getting enough stick for getting rid of Raul - who had always been called up to every international game since 1996, Spain lost their two games in the qualifying phase of the 2008 Euros against Northern Ireland and Sweden.
Spanish press were relentless in their criticism, of both Aragonés and the players, headlines calling for the coach to resign. Times of adversity are when people most get together, to protect each other. All that harsh criticism towards the group, made them pull together, Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina said “We closed ourselves off from the world, which made us get really close as a group, to the point of becoming like a family”. Barcelona defender Carles Puyol said “Everything we did made us closer to each other”.
The 23 players for that summer's EUFA European Tournament were: Iker Casillas, Pepe Reina, Andres Palop; Raul Albiol, Alvaro Arbeloa, Joan Capdevila, Juanito, Navarro, Marchena, Sergio Ramos, Puyol; Santi Cazorla, Xabi Alonso, Xavi hernandez, Cesc fabregas, De la Red, Iniesta, Senna, Silva; Dani Güiza, Sergio Garcia, David Villa and Fernando Torres.
Tuesday, 10th of June, Spain are playing Russia in the first of 3 group games. Spain dominated, as a group, and managed a 4-1 win. With a hat-trick from former Valencia striker Villa (or Villa Maravilla as he would be called for the rest of the tournament) and a goal from Cesc Fabregas.
4 days later, Spain was playing Sweden. This match served as a warning, Spanish newspaper Marca had on their front page "They're scary" referring to Villa and Torres and how well they had played the previous match. A goal by Torres early on in the game was neutralised by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. it was 1-1 until David Villa saved the day, two minutes from the end, after a deep pass from Capdevila he managed to put in the back of the net. Spain were already head of group since Greece lost to Russia.
The game against Greece gave other players a chance to shine. Goals from De la Red and Güiza gave the Spaniards a 2-1 victory over the current European champions. Fernando Torres later had said “You knew we were a tight-knit group, because in the game against Sweden we were happy for players that didn’t get as many minutes to play, we were unselfish in that aspect”.
Spain had beaten all their Group rivals, and where on their way to quarter finals, the road to victory wouldn't be an easy one, as their next opponent was none other than the reigning world champions Italy.
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