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Spain put their “black legend” to bed with Euro win

After 44 long years – virtually as long as the trophy drought still afflicting England – Spain finally threw off their chains on Sunday in winning the European Championship, beating Germany with a Fernando Torres strike.

The expression “Black Legend” normally goes hand-in-hand with the Spanish inquisition – but for fans of the Furia Roja it referred – until now – to the team's consistent showing of great promise only to fail, usually in the quarter-finals, ever since their only previous triumph at Euro 64.

A final appearance in Euro 1984 had been the closest a football-obsessed country had come since – old political rivals and neighbours France proving too strong.

On that occasion their chief tormentor was Michel Platini – so it was appropriate that the man who is now president of UEFA should hand over the winners' medals.

The dead weight of history finally dissipated after another old foe – Italy – had been bested on penalties in the quarter-finals, and on June 22 too, date of three previous Spanish shootout failures.

“We can get past the quarters” was the legend many fans wore on their t-shirts as they arrived in Austria for this summer's competition.

After beating a typically negative Italy in a competitive international for the first time in 88 years this had to be Spain's year with Fernando Torres and David Villa among the goals and a gifted midfield preparing a steady supply of ammunition.

Suddenly, the agony of last eight exits at the World Cup in 1986 and 2002 and Euro 96 had been cast aside.

“Forty four years later, we did it again! It's the best day of my life,” as Cesc Fabregas put it as Spain finally hit the jackpot after numerous promising showings in lower age-group competitions.

The European pendulum, had already swung in Spain's direction several times in recent years at club level with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia regular star turns in the Champions League.

Now it has belatedly moved the same way at international level, away from Italy, Germany and a France side who bested Spain in the second round of the last World Cup after the latter's typically fine start.

The sporting “black legend” began a long time before that, following a 1934 World Cup loss to be precise to, who else, the Italians.

Turkey, who managed to spring a surprise or two of their own over the past month, then shocked Spain by knocking them out of the 1954 World Cup qualifiers.

In 1962, it seemed a team with the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano on board had to have a good chance of glory but the Real Madrid legend picked up an injury and another chance of glory went begging.

Then the 1964 Euros – when finally silverware arrived via a 2-1 win over the Soviet Union on home soil for a team coached by Jose Villalonga.

That win, until Sunday, was the exception which would prove the rule for 44 years – back to when grizzled current coach Luis Aragones was a sprightly 26-year-old.

More disasters would follow, such as the Argentina-78 World Cup, where there was no point in holding Brazil if the Spanish had already squandered the points against surprise package Austria.

Mexico-86 looked like a good time and place to bury such memories, especially with a second-round thrashing of Denmark.

But then June 22 came round once again and it was Belgium who kept their nerve in the quarter-final shootout.

The last eight again proved the terminus as Italy (them again) scored a 2-1 win which Roberto Baggio secured with his winner after Mauro Tassotti's elbow had broken Luis Enrique's nose.

At France-98, another World Cup catastrophe – in the form of a 3-2 loss to Nigeria, rendered academic a 6-1 flattening of Bulgaria in the opening phase.

In 2002, it was deja vu all over again – a shootout loss to co-hosts South Korea, with the added spice of two goals questionably disallowed.

But all bad things come to an end and if Austria meant World Cup heartache 30 years ago when push came to shove on Sunday, Torres' predatory qualities finally laid the hoodoo to rest as Spain deservedly brought the curtain down on Euro 2008 by dancing a victorious Viennese waltz.

Mon 30 June, 2008
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