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Aragones the mastermind behind Spain´s Euro success

Luis Aragones's tenure as national coach came to a glorious and deserving conclusion here on Sunday with Spain's success over Germany in the Euro 2008 final.

Approaching his 70th birthday he became the oldest coach to win the European title but he must have shed half his years as he watched captain Iker Casillas hold aloft the coveted Cup which Spain has only held in its hands once before in 1964.

Aragones had warned bleakly on the eve of the final that “no one remembers who comes second” – well he needn't have worried as Fernando Torres's first half goal ensured the world and his wife will recall his Spanish team for many a year to come.

Back in the dark days of Spain's early qualifying campaign for Euro 2008 Aragones had tendered his resignation as coach after back-to-back defeats to Northern Ireland and Sweden.

Luckily for the team that has so often in the past suffered from 'quarterfinalitis' his offer to stand down was rejected, not a bad executive decision by the Spanish Football Federation.

Defender Carles Puyol, speaking on the eve of the final, reflected: “We have followed the coach, pulling through some tough times when we've been criticised and so has he.

“This has strengthened our will. The coach deserves this success.”

Sunday's 1-0 win over Germany to break Spain's 44 year title famine was the crowning moment of a man who counts King Juan Carlos as one of his buddies and a fitting reward to La Furia Roja's exuberant fast flowing attacking football backed up by a steely defence under his watch.

Like most men within weeks of turning 70 Aragones can be irascible and short-tempered but he has won the hearts of a nation with his team's exploits at these championships.

By masterminding Spain's passage to Sunday's final against Germany he had ended the 1964 champions' well earned reputation of falling short when it mattered most.

Prior to last Sunday's spot-kick win over their bogey team Italy they had lost on penalties in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup, Euro 96 and the 2002 World Cup.

But now all those years of hurt at the national side's under achievements have been swept away by Spain's starring performance over the past three long weeks.

Aragones' spell in charge of Spain has not been without controversy or criticism.

He was castigated over racist comments he made about Thierry Henry as he tried to motivate Henry's Arsenal teammate Jose Antonio Reyes during a training session back in 2004, an outburst that earned the Spanish Football Federation a near 90,000 dollar slap on the wrist from UEFA.

Aragones later denied he was racist, a view supported among others by Barcelona's Cameroon star striker Samuel Eto'o.

And his decision not to include Real Madrid's Raul in his Euro squad sparked heated debate among fans and the Spanish media – but with the David Villa and Fernando Torres tandem proving so effective here he can feel fully vindicated.

As a player he earned the nickname 'Zapatones' or big boots and his will certainly be hard to fill when he stands down after his side's exorcising of so many ghosts at Euro 2008.

Sun 29 June, 2008
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