El Centrocampista

EURO 2004: Same old Spain flatter to deceive yet again


Having been dumped out of the 2002 World Cup in controversial fashion at the hands of co-hosts South Korea, Spain were looking for redemption as they made the short trip across the Portuguese border for Euro 2004.

The draw gave Spain what appeared to be a manageable group A – hosts Portugal alongside Greece and Russia, however things proved far from straight forward for Inaki Saez and his team as they were about to become the first big-name victims of the Greek fairytale.

Spain began the tournament with a fairly laboured  1-0 win over Russia. The team contained a plethora of household names; Casillas,  Puyol, Marchena, Helguera, Bravo, Vicente, Baraja, Albelda, Etxeberria, Raul and Morientes formed the basis of a solid Spain team however they struggled to break Russia down until the introduction of Deportivo’s Juan Carlos Valeron was replaced Fernando Morientes.

Within seconds of the legendary playmakers’ introduction, Valeron had bagged the goal that sealed a crucial opening win for Spain – Portugal’s surprising defeat to Greece earlier in the day put Spain in pole position to progress from the Group. Next up for Saez and Spain were Otto Rehhagel’s Greek side.

Despite Valeron’s impact against Russia, Saez chose to stick with the same XI that started the previous game and it was Spain that took the lead as a defensive mistake was pounced upon by Raul who fed Morientes, and the striker slammed the ball past Nikopolidis to give Spain an expected lead.

However just past the hour mark Greece hit back with a leveller through Angelos Charisteas – and that’s how it stayed. A 1-1 draw wasn’t ideal for Spain, especially as Portugal won their game against Russia 2-0. The Spanish went into the final game against Portugal just one point above them however and knew a point would secure safe passage to the knock-out phase.

Nuno Gomes was to break Spanish hearts however as he fired in a sublime 20-yeard effort to give Portugal their first win in 12 years over the neighbours  to send Spain crashing out of the competition. The hosts topped the group while Greece, who had lost 2-1 to Russia secured  second spot by virtue of having scored two more goals than la Roja.

The tournament was to end in glory for the unfancied Greeks as Angelos Charisteas reduced Cristiano Ronaldo to tears by scoring the final’s only goal mid-way through the second half, causing one of the biggest shocks in the sport’s history.

For the Spanish, the repercussions were felt soon after the tournament as Saez was sacked and replaced by Luis Aragones.

Few of the players that appeared at Euro 2004 made it to the 2006 World Cup as Aragones looked to inject some new impetus into the side. The 2004 crop of players were a continuation of so many other Spanish sides who promised so much, yet ultimately delivered so little.

Under the tutelage of Aragones however, things were to prove so very different.

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