Score it a decidedly good week for Spain. Because just two days after the country struck an emphatic blow in favor of European Union plurality that also helped calm the roiling euro crisis, the Spanish soccer team left the sports world in absolute awe by winning an unprecedented third-straight international football crown in just four years. Better still, by thrashing Italy 4-0 in the European Championship final Sunday, la Roja defiantly answered criticism that its play had been boring with indisputable proof that it also wins when it counts.
“Are we boring?” asked triumphant midfielder Cesc Fabregas. “People who think we play boring, I don’t think they understand the game,” he said, presumably in reference to the criticism that coach Vicente del Bosque has come in for in persisting with a supposed strikerless 4-6-0 formation.
People do understand winning, however, and Spain’s soccer team has become synonymous with the term. Its European Championship title Sunday joins the Euro trophy it won in 2008, and World Cup crown two years ago in South Africa. Though both West Germany and France won consecutive tournaments (the Germans won the 1972 Euros and the 1974 World Cup, while France triumphed in the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 Euros), Spain is the first nation to ever stage a triple run. Many pundits did not believe the feat to be possible in the notoriously inconsistent world of elite soccer, where yesterday’s powerhouse melts into today’s lame puddle on the pitch (just look at Germany’s limp semi-final performance, and Italy’s fatigued finale against Spain for evidence of that). Yet not only were such doubters disabused of their doubt Sunday night; they were joined in their stupefaction of the feat by the Spanish players themselves.
“It’s unique, it’s magical–something that can’t be repeated,” said delighted Spanish midfielder Andres Iniesta, who was named the player of the tournament. “I don’t think we’ve even absorbed how great this is yet.”
Given its timing, Spain’s record title comes somewhat ironically at the expense of Italy—its main partner in staging a different kind of coup in another sort of euro battle in Brussels Friday. During a summit of E.U. leaders, Spanish premier Mariano Rajoy joined forces with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti to force their peers—primarily German Chancellor Angela Merkel—to finally take their plight and views into account in managing the euro crisis victimizing their societies. Their unexpected power play proved effective in getting partners to break the E.U.’s previously exclusive focus on austerity dealing with the debt and financial calamity. As a result, Spain and Italy not only secured some flexibility and breathing room for their swamped banks and economies—they also broke the Franco-German domination of E.U. decision-making by forcing a greater degree of plurality and even democracy into managing the current crises.
Is a link between a European policy change and a sporting achievement a bit of a stretch? Perhaps, but the succession of events does represent a sudden and significant lift to Spanish spirits that have long been crushed by deepening austerity and rising joblessness. One takes hope—and joy—where it’s available. And its new/latest Euro title adds another moment of proud respite to a Spanish population that knows the brutal economic battering it has suffered in the past two years is far from over yet (indeed, Monday’s Eurozone unemployment figures for May made for particularly bleak reading for any hungover heads in Spain).
As a beacon through coming months and years of continued grind, meantime, Spaniards can also look ahead to the next global challenge awaiting its heroic footballers: the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The Spanish squad was one of the youngest at the Poland and Ukraine-hosted Euro, which, in addition to the historic roll they’re currently on, makes la Roja one of the main favorites to defend its global title (Brazil only gets the edge in the current betting stakes because they’re the host nation and no European country has won the World Cup in South America before).
But besides that, Spain’s oft-noted (and at times decried) ability to win matches despite what at times was frankly perfunctory play is—as much as its detractors will hate to admit it—another sign of a real champion. As Monti, Rajoy, and Spain’s players demonstrated this past week, winners are frequently those who refuse to view losing an option, and don’t really care a jot how that goes down in the eyes of rivals and observers.
“It was more difficult when people didn’t believe in us,” said Spanish star Xavi, savoring the Euro win Sunday. “The bar was very high, but those are nice challenges.” A continent continues to look on in envy, even if matters off the pitch aren’t as simple for Spain to solve.