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´Big boots´ one step away from history

SoccerNews in European Championships, La Liga 27 Jun 2008

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

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 Thursday's semi-final against Russia he 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.

Since Aragones took over the Spanish reins after Euro 2004 his side skipped through their group stage at the 2006 World Cup before once again running out of gas in the second round against France.

But all those years of hurt at the national side's under achievements have been swept away by Spain's performance at these championships which after Thursday's 3-0 win over Russia sees them one game away from the title.

Reflecting on this second win over Russia at the championships Aragones said: “We started off playing Russia's style of game with long passes but when we got the ball on the deck and started passing it around, that was when we got into the zone defensively and offensively.

“We came close to scoring on two or three occasions and in a semi-final that's difficult.”

A win over Germany in Sunday's final will be the crowning moment for a man who counts King Juan Carlos as one of his friends.

He may be about to enter his eighth decade on this earth but the march of time hasn't dimmed his energy and passion – that's evident from his jubilant jig after seeing off Italy in the quarter-finals.

At that match Spanish fans held up banners imploring him to stay on as national coach after Euro 2008 – what a contrast to the treatment meted out by France supporters to their team's manager Raymond Domenech, whose name was booed when it was read out by the stadium announcer before each French game.

Aragones' spell in charge of La Furia Roja has not been without controversy.

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.

At a stage in life when most of us would be thinking of a quiet life in front of the fire Aragones is set to enter the cauldron that is the Turkish league and become the next manager of Fernabahce.

A former coach of the Turkish giants is his Russia counterpart Guus Hiddink who paid tribute to the man in the dugout beside him at the Ernst Happel stadium on Thursday.

“Luis is getting older and going to the club where I started my international career. At 70 it means this man has a lot of energy, I have a lot of respect for him.

“I've also had experience in Spain, and when you know how to survive in Spain then you're a big man, and he's a big man.”

Aragones, attributed with producing the most successful Spanish team in over two decades, for his part says he can reflect on his work with Spain with pride.

“I am proud of the results of my team and the fact that I am leaving behind a group of players who give their all on the pitch and within the group there is a good atmosphere. That will be a good mark on my CV.”

A CV that unlike his brilliant Spanish team is still not the finished article with Sunday's final offering up the chance of a first title in 44 years.

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Aaron
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Aragones was a good player and is a decent coach. But he is such a horrible excuse for a person it’s sad. The chimpitation of a human being has repeatedly given racist and sexist remarks and has never been fully reprimanded by the Spanish FA. Shame on both of them. I hope Spain wins for the spanish and I hope Aragones takes a 90mph slice right in the cojones.

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