VIENNA, Austria — A championship 44 years in the waiting is worth a special celebration.
Spain made sure it didn't disappoint any of its fans Sunday night, both during its 1-0 victory over Germany to win the European Championship, and after it.
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Fernando Torres scored in the 33rd minute and the Spaniards never backed down against such a formidable opponent. Their last significant title came in the 1964 Euros at home.
”It is to me the most important day in Spanish football in many, many years,“ Torres said.
Against the highly accomplished Germans, the Spaniards weren't intimidated. They got the one goal they needed — from a slumping striker, no less — and set off chants of ”ES-PANA!“ and ”Ole, Ole Ole!“ at the final whistle.
The entire Spanish squad ran over to the huge rooting section of red and gold, exchanging hugs, while many of the spent Germans collapsed to the turf.
When Spain goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas accepted the trophy on a stage, the Spanish fans began chanting the melody to their national anthem, which has no words. Thousands of camera flashes went off as the players jumped in place, then headed onto the field to show off their prize.
The Spaniards weren't close to finished with their celebration that was so long in the making. They marched to their rooting section, hoisting the cup and saluting their flag-waving, firecracker-exploding fans.
”We have won in a brilliant way,“ Coach Luis Aragones said. ”We will be able to start saying we can win, a European Championship as well as any other thing.“
In beating a team that makes a habit of appearing in championship finals, the Spaniards put to rest a reputation for underachieving. Always loaded with talented players, Spain has spent four decades falling short of expectations.
That all changed at these Euros, where the Spaniards swept their first-round games, eliminated World Cup champion Italy in a penalty-kick shootout in the quarterfinals, then routed Russia 3-0 in the semifinals.
”We played the best for the entire tournament and we beat some great teams,“ Torres said. ”We beat Italy, the World Cup champion, and we beat Russia and now Germany. That is how you become champion.“
Germany has won three Euros and three World Cups, but was no match in this final. Captain Michael Ballack, questionable before the game with a calf injury, started, but hardly was noticeable — except when he left for several minutes to have a bloody right eye treated.
”We had a great tournament, but made one mistake too many,“ Ballack said. ”We were lacking of power against a great Spanish team. We couldn't keep up with them.“
Torres, who had 33 goals for Liverpool this season but has been invisible in Euros, came through off a brilliant feed from Xavi Hernandez.
Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, at 38 the oldest player in the competition, charged from his net when he saw that defender Philipp Lahm was beaten on the right side. But Torres chipped the ball over the sliding Lehmann and into the gaping goal.
The crowd of 51,428 at Ernst Happel Stadium, split almost equally between Germany and Spain, might have expected the Spaniards to go into a protective shell. Instead, and even without leading scorer David Villa (leg injury), they continued to carry the attack and were far more dangerous than Germany the rest of the way.
Indeed, Lehmann, who helped the Germans to third place in the 2006 World Cup, kept it close with several tough saves.
This was the last game for 69-year-old Aragones, the oldest coach to win the Euros.
”The most important thing about our team, perhaps, is the manager,“ Torres said. ”He has confidence in us and he lets us play. We have brought him the championship in his last game for Spain and we are very happy we could make this history for him and for us.“
Germany's Joachim Loew has a contract through the 2010 World Cup, but will need to find the spark Germany showed only periodically in Austria and Switzerland.
”Spain played very well during the whole tournament. and they were technically excellent,“ Loew said. ”They fully deserve victory.“