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International Soccer
Spain deserved Euro crown

By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Even before the Euro 2008 finals began, it was easy to peg longtime underachiever Spain as the favorite.

Spain was unbeaten in its last 16 matches - mainly victories - and had the most impressive lineup in the tournament.

It would have also been very easy to pass on Spain - the team has disappointed for the last 44 years - but the country's impressive recent play was just too much to overlook.

So, before the tournament, I took a gamble on Spain (I know, way to go out on a limb by picking the fourth-ranked team in the world) and chose it to win Euro.

It's nice - and a little strange - to be right every once in a while. Spain won the title, 1-0, over Germany (Hmm, didn't I pick the Germans to be in the final too?!).

Let's not dwell on the fact that I didn't even have semifinalist Turkey in the knockout stage. However, I did have the other semifinalist, Russia, advancing to the quarterfinals. Isn't that worth something?

Fernando Torres scored two goals and helped teammate David Villa win the tournament's Golden Boot.
All right, back to Spain.

Spain extended its unbeaten streak to 22 games and became just the second team in the history of the Euro finals to win all three group matches and then go on to win the title. The only other team to do that? France, in 1984, when it beat Spain in the Euro final.

At least now, Spain can add another major title to its 1964 Euro championship. Forty-four years was just too long for such a proud soccer country to wait.

Maybe, just maybe, it'll only take two more years for Spain to add another. West Germany is the only country to follow up a Euro championship with a World Cup title two years later, winning the Euro in 1972 and the World Cup in 1974.

France pulled off the opposite feat - which is just as impressive - by winning the World Cup in 1998 and the Euro title in 2000.

After glancing back at some of the memorable players and performances of the Euro 2008 finals below, let the countdown begin to the 2010 World Cup.

ALL-TOURNAMENT PLAYERS

STRIKER: Fernando Torres, Spain. With only one starting striker in our 4-5-1, Torres gets the nod - and not just for scoring the winning goal in the Euro final. He scored two goals and helped teammate David Villa win the tournament's Golden Boot with four goals.

LEFT MIDFIELDER: Lukas Podolski, Germany. Emerged as one of the surprises of tournament after moving from his usual role as a striker to midfield. Had three goals in his first two games and set up goals in Germany's quarterfinal and semifinal wins.

CENTER MIDFIELDER: Xavi Hernandez, Spain. Well, he was named Player of the EURO 2008 by UEFA, so it's not a hard decision to plug him into the team. He was equally brilliant retaining possession and dictating the offense for Spain. He also chipped in a goal and an assist.

CENTER MIDFIELDER: Michael Ballack, Germany. He drew a decent amount of criticism, but he really held the Germans together throughout the event. Injured, he still played the final and despite a bad cut on his eye, finished the match. Also scored two-game winning goals.

CENTER MIDFIELDER: Marcos Senna, Spain. Spain didn't allow a goal in its three knockout stage games, and Senna was a key reason why. The defensive midfielder, who was born in Brazil, helped solidify a defense that was widely criticized before the tournament.

RIGHT MIDFIELDER: Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany. Podolski's switch pushed him out of the starting lineup, and he played just 58 minutes in the group stage (he missed one match after a red card). But after he regained a starting role, he sparked team with two goals and two assists.

LEFT BACK: Philipp Lahm, Germany. Lahm's tournament was spoiled when Torres got by him for the lone goal in the final, but the diminutive player had numerous great performances. In addition to playing solid defensively, he scored the winning goal in the semifinal.

CENTER BACK: Carlos Puyol, Spain. Puyol can easily play outside as well, but he was a rock inside for Spain. It's not really a surprise that the former UEFA Best European Right Back and Champions League Defender of the Year excelled in the spotlight of the Euro finals.

CENTER BACK: Carlos Marchena, Spain. Marchena doesn't have quite the reputation as Puyol, but he was just as solid. Who would have guessed Spain - which also featured Joan Capdevila and Sergio Ramos outside - would shut out Italy, Russia and Germany in consecutive games.

RIGHT BACK: Hamit Altintop, Turkey. Altintop was a huge influence in Turkey's inspiring run to the semifinal. Most of the credit will go to striker Nihat Kahveci and others for Turkey's run, but Altintop was the spark. He finished with three assists.

GOALKEEPER: Iker Casillas, Spain. Wasn't that busy in the semifinal or final - he wasn't even tested by Germany - but his performance in the quarterfinals was impressive. Casillas stopped two penalties in a shootout with Italy, launching his team's title run.

SUBSTITUTE: Andrei Arshavin, striker, Russia. Arshavin only played three games, and arguably turned in the two best individual performances in Euros. After missing the first two games to suspension, he led Russia over Sweden and the Netherlands.

SUBSTITUTE: Cesc Fabregas, midfielder, Spain. Came off the bench in four of Spain's first five matches, but started the final and was impressive to wrap up a solid tournament. He finished with a goal and three assists.

SUBSTITUTE: Wesley Sneijder, midfielder, Netherlands. If this team was selected after the group stage, Sneijder would not be the only Dutch player on the roster. He helped his team roll through the "Group of Death" but a quick exit followed in the quarters. Had two goals and three assists in three games.

GAME OF THE TOURNAMENT

Turkey played in four of the most memorable games - coming from behind to win three - but its loss to Germany in the semifinals was the best. The teams combined for three goals in the final 11 minutes, with Lahm scoring the winner in the 90th minute for Germany.

GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT

Nihat's second goal against the Czech Republic was a perfect finish from the left side of the area that just cleared world-class goalie Petr Cech and then curled inside the upper right corner. Considering the situation - it capped an amazing three-goal rally - and the goalie, it was as amazing.

BEST TEAM GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT

Germany's first goal in a 3-2 win over Portugal in the quarterfinals was set up by 17 passes. Podolski and Ballack eventually worked a perfect passing combo on the left side to free Podolski and he passed to Schweinsteiger, who made a run from the other side of the field and finished inside the near post.

MOST SURPRISING TEAM

Turkey was given a small chance to escape the group stage, but it emerged after a pair of amazing wins and advanced to the semifinals with an even more thrilling win. Turkey scored in injury time to beat co-host Switzerland 2-1, scored three goals in the last 15 minutes to rally for a 3-2 win over the Czech Republic, and won its quarterfinal over Croatia in penalties after tying the game on the last play of overtime.

MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM

France, the 2006 World Cup runner-up, scored its only goal of the Euro finals in a 4-1 loss to the Netherlands, didn't advance out of the group stage and finished 15th out of 16 teams. The French can thank defending champion Greece, which failed to win a game, or it would be the worst team in the Euro finals.



Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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