After years of disappointment...

Luis Aragones... the coach who changed the fortunes of Spanish football.-AP

To the former Spanish coach, the late Luis Aragones, goes the credit for channelling a technically gifted midfield’s craving for the ball into a ruthless, effective approach and delivering the nation its first trophy in 44 years.

It was Luis Aragones who changed everything. It was he who created the modern Spanish juggernaut, harnessing the national side’s undoubted potential. It helped that the country produced a generation of immensely talented footballers, but it still needed someone to piece it all together. Aragones did that, channelling a technically gifted midfield’s craving for the ball into a ruthless, effective approach and delivering Spain its first trophy in 44 years. EURO 2008 was a watershed, for it lifted a monkey off the Seleccion’s back and paved the way for future success, which came in spades. It might seem inevitable that a bunch of players that good should win something eventually, but better sides have come and gone without silverware.

“Luis Aragones changed the history of Spanish football and for that we will always be thankful,” the goalkeeper, Iker Cassillas, said after Aragones died in February this year. He was not exaggerating.

Vicente del Bosque inherited his predecessor’s side, sharpened it further, and guided Spain to its first World Cup win in 2010. Andres Iniesta’s goal deep into extra-time condemned a physical, bruising Netherlands team to defeat in Johannesburg.

“The reward today was for beautiful football,” del Bosque said afterwards. “I tried to ring this home in the dressing room after the game but everyone was ecstatic and it was difficult to speak, it was so loud. But Spain, as a country, deserves this triumph. This goes beyond sport.”

The reaction was understandably euphoric. “It was poetic justice because football won and football, that marvellous universal folklore, is Iniesta,” El Mundo, Spain’s second largest daily, said the next day. “The little wizard had to be the one who in minute 116 put the nail in the coffin of the 11 most quarrelsome Dutchmen in history.”

The triumph at EURO 2012 followed, firmly establishing Spain in the pantheon of the great international teams.

Before the success of 2008, though, the country’s barren run had been a long one, stretching all the way back to EURO 1964 — its first major trophy, when it hosted and won a final tournament of four teams. There was a silver medal at EURO 84, preceding two frustrating decades on the global stage.

There were three disappointing quarterfinal losses in World Cups in that period. In 1986, the Belgians inflicted a surprise defeat, on penalties, while in 1994 a Roberto Baggio goal two minutes from time saw Italy through. In 2002, some hugely debatable officiating saw the co-host South Korea advance on penalties.

Then there were Round of 16 exits: in 1990 at Yugoslavia’s hands, and in 2006, when a Zinedine Zidane-inspired France dealt out a beating. It all earned Spain the label of perennial underachiever.

In truth, though, these two decades, in terms of results, had been much better than the three before them. After the 1950 World Cup, where it finished fourth, Spain next saw the knock-outs only in 1986, failing to qualify for the tournament on four occasions.

* * * GUTS & GOALIE

Spain's first ever international, against Denmark at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, featured Ricardo Zamora in goal. The Spanish earned their nickname of La Furia Roja at the competition for their swift, direct, aggressive style of play and the goalkeeper, only 19 at the time, did not perhaps attract much attention. But he would grow to be regarded as one of the country's best ever, captaining the side at the 1934 World Cup, Spain's first.

Spain crashed out in the quarterfinals to Italy, losing in a replay having drawn the first time, with Zamora so badly roughed up in the first match that he was unable to play in the second. But he was considered a fine, brave goalkeeper, conceding 42 goals in 46 internationals in an era when his ilk did not have the same level of protection they do now.

The Ricardo Zamora Trophy, given to the goalkeeper who concedes the lowest goals per game in the Liga, is named after him.

Emilio Butragueno, who made his name with Real Madrid as a striker of repute, remained, for a number of years after his retirement, as Spain's leading all-time goal-scorer with 26. He represented Spain at the 1986 and 1990 World Cups, captaining the team on the latter occasion.

The legendary Alfredo di Stefano turned out for three countries - Argentina, Colombia and Spain - in his career but did not make the World Cup with any of them. He scored 23 goals from his 21 games for Spain, good returns by any measure.

The prolific Telmo Zarra played only 20 matches for Spain, but it was enough for him to score 20 goals. He is seen as one of the greatest Spanish attackers ever.