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European Championships 2008


• Teams from Groups A and B, and C and D could not meet in the quarter-finals, meaning it was impossible for two teams in the same group to meet in the final
• Repeated concerns were raised about the match ball, a new creation by Addidas, which players claimed deviated in flight
• Electrical storms meant that the global TV feed for the Germany v Turkey semi-final was interrupted several times
• A new trophy, almost identical to the old Henri Delaunay Trophy, was commissioned from Asprey of London
The story
Two temporarily-twinned Alpine nations welcomed the cream of Europe to fresh air and awesome scenery, and the nearly-men of world football finally delivered. Spain's title, their first since they hosted the 1964 tournament, arrived in a superior style to the world title that would follow two years later. A previously missing collective spirit, and all four units of the team - goalkeeper, defence, midfield and attack - working at optimum level, had them streets ahead. As in South Africa, the narrowness of victory in their matches belied their dominance.
There were notable absentees from the tournament in the English, whose qualifying campaign was farcical. Away defeats in Croatia and Russia should have killed off their hopes before a shock victory for Israel opened the door again. On a night always remembered for coach Steve McClaren sheltering his thinning ginger quiff under an umbrella as his team threw away their golden chance, Croatia, easily the better side, won through. They would be a credit to the tournament in a fashion it is credible that England could ever have been.
The two hosts themselves, while a credit for their hospitality, both suffered troubled finals campaigns. The Swiss failed to build on the promise of their Germany 2006 adventure when losing their first two matches. The tournament opener saw key striker Alexander Frei injured as the Czechs won 1-0 in Basel.
The next match saw Switzerland achieve the dubious honour of being the first team to exit, and did some amid the drama of a rain-sodden last-minute defeat to Turkey, who were to develop into party spoilers and all-weather specialists as the tournament went on. Portugal, winning their first two games, and with Cristiano Ronaldo coming off his high Manchester United watermark, won the group but obliged the hosts by being defeated in the final match by the co-hosts. Drama was reserved for Fatih Terim's Turks, who denied the Czechs with yet another late show, via two strikes from Nihat when they had been losing 2-1.
Austria's pre-tournament hopes had been minimal and those expectations were hit when their single point was gained in a draw with fellow also-rans Poland. Enthusiasm was the co-hosts' greatest asset - a million people thronged Vienna's streets to see their opening match against Croatia. The Croats won that and pulled off the tournament's first surprise by beating the fancied Germans in Klagenfurt.
The Germans had to partially sweat on beating Austria in their final match, winning just 1-0 against their Germanic brothers, and breathing a sigh of relief after Michael Ballack supplied the winner. Germany coach Jogi Loew, banned after an alteraction during the Croatia defeat, was forced to sit out the match in an executive box, where he could be seen agonising and chainsmoking throughout.
A Group of Death saw big-hitters Netherlands, Italy and France duke it out, though in truth the French were so poor as to belie any elevated status. A dreadful draw with Romania was followed by destruction by the Dutch in Berne. Marco Van Basten's team had already despatched world champions Italy in an opener best remembered for Ruud Van Nistelrooy's opening goal, scored after the Real Madrid man had used new offside rules about being 'active' to steal in and score.
The Dutch completed a perfect opening round by beating Romania 2-0 before the French ignominy continued in Zurich. Eric Abidal fouled Luca Toni to be both sent off and concede a penalty, converted by Andrea Pirlo but hopes had already gone when Franck Ribery was carried from the field with torn ankle ligaments after ten minutes.
Group D provided former and future champions. The Greeks could not repeat their heroics under "Konig" Otto Rehhagel, being easily beaten in Salzburg by the Swedes to signal that the trick would not work for a second time. Their exit was all but confirmed by a narrow loss to Russia, who did well not to reel from a 4-1 Innsbruck thrashing by Spain. The Spanish blazed to a perfect record, with David Villa scoring four times, including a hat-trick against the Russians.
Russia, managed by international gun-for-hire Guus Hiddink, beat the Swedes 2-0 to go through, via goals from Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko, both of whom would win moves to the Premier League after fine showings at the Euros.
The last eight saw Portugal confirming their flattering to deceive. Defensive weakness to the crossed ball cost them a 3-2 defeat to the Germans, with both Miroslav Klose and Michael Ballack scoring headers. Ronaldo departed the tournament goalless, warding off accusations of his being distracted by his potential move to Real Madrid.
The following night saw Turkey supply their latest late show to deny the Croatians, whose celebrations of a late extra-time goal were led by death-metalling manager Slaven Bilic. Ivan Klasnic, recently returned to football from a kidney transplant, scored with a minute to go but Croat nerves failed them when Semih Senturk drilled an equaliser two minutes into injury time. Croatia were understandably devastated and missed three out of four penalties, while Terim's team continued their haphazard but thrilling progress.
The Dutch's spirit of adventure came to a crashing halt when Van Basten's tactics failed against a more experienced Dutch master in Hiddink. Though Van Nistelrooy took the game to extra time after levelling out Pavlyuchenko's goal, Russia's superior energy took them away from the Dutch, with Andrei Arshavin, who had missed the opening two matches through suspension, marking himself out as a potential man of the tournament.
Spain's footballing history, both in club and international form, had seen them lose out to Italy on many a bitter occasion. And while they played much the better football, and Giorgio Chiellini was required to put in the type of performance that the missing-through-injury Fabio Cannavaro once provided. Penalties arrived, a point at which both teams had previous for heartache. This time, the Spanish took the spoils, with goalkeeper Iker Casillas the hero. Daniele De Rossi missed Italy's second, before Daniel Guiza and Antonio Di Natale exchanged saved efforts. Cesc Fabregas, on as a substitute, scored the decider and the Spanish began to believe.
The Turkey show had to come to an end at some point, and did so in the semi-final in Basel, but only after another helping of Terim-inspired drama. The incendiary football almost matched the thunder storm in Vienna - where international pictures were being beamed out from - which denied much of the TV audience a large portion of the game. Having taken the lead against the Germans, they found themselves needing another late equaliser, which Terim again supplied. Finally though, a taste of Turkish medicine was received when full-back Philipp Lahm scored on the overlap.
Affairs were less dramatic in Vienna, where Spain played like a team with destiny on its side as Russia's high hopes came to an end. Xavi's metronomic passing had been their engine all tournament and he supplied their first goal. Xavi and Andres Iniesta were given a platform to play by naturalised Brazilian Marcos Senna, with David Silva on the flanks behind a pairing of Fernando Torres and David Villa who were playing at the peak of their powers. Further strikes from sub Guiza and then Silva were just reward for a slick display which had most believing the Spanish were finally to deliver.
Vienna was the venue for victory. Torres had been goalless throughout the tournament though an excellent foil for Villa. The Valencia striker missed the final after a thigh injury in the semi-final and Torres played in front of a five-man midfield, where Fabregas was added in Villa's stead.
As had happened to the Russians, Germany could not get near to the passing movement of the Spanish and never enjoyed the comfort of possession amid frantic pressing. Outgoing Luis Aragones had his team playing his country's best football since the early 1960s. Torres got his goal in the 33rd minute, seizing on a typical Xavi throughball to power past Lahm and score. The game was won there, since Germany barely threatened, kept at arm's length by the Spaniards, who continued to create chances, enjoying a ratio of seven-to-one efforts in the final 20 minutes.
Spain, at last, had performed to their potential on the international stage. First Europe, now for the world.


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