Thu, Jan 01, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Fiesta as Spanish soccer team finally come up trumps

AFP , MADRID

The year 2008 will be long remembered in Spain after the eternally underachieving national team finally came good, winning the European Championships on June 29 after Fernando Torres’ goal sealed a 1-0 victory over Germany in the final.

It was their first title in 44 years — following their European championship success back in 1964 — and it was fiesta time as the champagne and sangria flowed throughout the country.

“This is a happy day for Spain, we’ve won this tournament in style and we’re very happy. Now we will start expecting to win on this sort of stage,” outgoing coach Luis Aragones said.

On the domestic front champions Real Madrid started the year seven points clear of Barcelona after Julio Baptista’s goal sealed a 1-0 win over their rivals in El Clasico at Camp Nou days before Christmas.

Under German coach Bernd Schuster Real showed German-like efficiency to cruise to a second successive league title in May and finished a mighty 18 points ahead of Barca with Villarreal sandwiched in between.

Barcelona lost both matches against Real and on May 7 had to suffer the ultimate humiliation performing the guard of honor to salute Real as champions at the Santiago Bernabeu and then lost 4-1.

However, the tables were to turn and by the end of the year with new Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, a former Barcelona captain, revitalizing the club to steer them to the summit of La Liga with a ten point gap over Sevilla and 12 points over sixth-placed Real.

Barcelona won a heated Clasico on Dec. 13 at Camp Nou with Samuel Eto’o and the irrepressible Lionel Messi scoring in the final seven minutes.

Last season’s hero Schuster could do no right and defeats to Valladolid, Getafe and Sevilla saw him lose his job four days last month with Juande Ramos taking his place.

It was a turbulent year for Valencia who finished outside of the top four when the season finished in May but are currently riding high in La Liga.

Valencia sacked Dutch coach Ronald Koeaman on April 21 with the club in mid-table obscurity and Unai Emery was recruited from Almeria.

Emery has revived Valencia’s fortunes and they lie fourth going into the new year.

Atletico Madrid returned to the Champions League for the first time in 11 years as they secured fourth spot at the end of last season.

Atletico old boy Fernando Torres was handed an emotional return when Liverpool were drawn in the same group but injury prevented the homecoming.

All the Spanish representatives — Barcelona, Real, Atletico and Villarreal — made it through to the knockout phase of the Champions League.

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