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Page last updated at 13:37 GMT, Monday, 30 June 2008 14:37 UK

Moment of unity as Spain win Euro 2008

By Steve Kingstone
BBC News, Madrid

When the final whistle blew to seal Spain's Euro 2008 victory over Germany, jubilant fire-fighters hosed down revellers in Madrid's Plaza de Colon.

Spanish fans celebrate in Madrid
Jubilant fans blocked traffic in central Madrid

Under a merciless sun, many had camped out all day to secure a prime position in front of giant screens showing the game.

For most, the wait for a Spanish footballing triumph had lasted a lifetime, and the memory of this night will not be easily extinguished.

Draped in Spanish flags, they spilled out of the plaza and on to the Paseo de la Castellana.

The traffic immediately ground to a halt. But the incessant honking of horns was for the team, not the delay.

Perhaps not quite believing what they had seen, some fans dived headlong into the fountains at Cibeles.

Celebration of youth

For a nation that boasts great champions in so many other sports, this long-overdue footballing success was a cleansing experience.

"Finally!" was the apt Monday morning headline of the daily newspaper ABC, referring to the 44 years that had passed since Spain's last major tournament victory.

So often since then, talented Spanish teams have failed to live up to their potential, but this time, the paper declared, "Spain has put an end to its black footballing legend".

Fan watches game in Madrid
Spain's last major football victory was before this fan was born

On and off the pitch, this was a celebration of youth. But two venerable Spanish gentlemen gate-crashed the fiesta.

In the stands, a fist-pumping King Juan Carlos led the travelling support, and later took his turn at clutching the cup in the victors' dressing room.

"I'm delighted for the boys, the team and for Spain," grinned the 70-year-old king.

"We've suffered, but it was worth it."

The other prominent senior citizen was the man to whom these players owe their chance.

On Sunday, Luis Aragones was coaching Spain for the final time.

At the end, the surly 69-year-old slipped away quietly into the tunnel but he was brought back to be hoisted aloft by his players, to roars of approval from the watching crowd in Madrid.

In a rare sign of the game's British origins, Spanish managers are known as "El Mister", and the tag fits Aragones perfectly.

Not one for the bright lights or florid speeches, this vastly experienced coach commands good old-fashioned respect.

Sullen-faced, occasionally controversial, and as stubborn as a bull, Aragones is considered a treasure in a nation where the elderly are held in great esteem.

Regional divisions

Some will look to portray this achievement as a force for national unity, given Spain's long-standing regional divisions.

In a pre-match newspaper article, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero wrote: "We have all identified with the red shirt... with the ball at their feet, we've seen an understanding between Andalucians, Basques, Catalans and Valencians."

Spanish fans celebrate win in Madrid
Some are seeing the victory as a way of uniting the country

But one trophy does not a unified nation make, and Mr Zapatero was perhaps overstating the point.

Basque and Catalan nationalists are not suddenly going to abandon their political principles on the strength of a goal by Fernando Torres.

Before the final, an awkward-looking President of the Basque Nationalist Party, Inigo Urkullu, said he hoped "the best team" would win. He got his wish.

In stark contrast to the recriminations and intrigues of past tournaments, the key to this success was perhaps that Spain's Euro 2008 was free of any sort of politics.

Quite simply, a young, exuberant team went out and played the best football of the championship, then held their nerve when it mattered.

And they were united, quite literally, down to their underpants.

After the game, the players emerged from the dressing room in identical black briefs, to shower waiting journalists with beer, cider and champagne.


SEE ALSO
Spain ecstatic at Euro 2008 win
30 Jun 08 |  Europe
Germany 0-1 Spain
29 Jun 08 |  Euro 2008
Germany team guide
15 May 08 |  Germany
Spain team guide
15 May 08 |  Spain
Germany v Spain photos
29 Jun 08 |  Euro 2008

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