James Lawton: Aragones the unlikely star takes his place among Spain's leading lights

Spain were too strong in spirit and too wide in talent for Germany
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The Independent Online

Luis Aragones will never be the pin-up boy of the big-time coaching circuit. He is too old and too fat. Yet there will always be a place of honour for him in the great but, until now, desperately under-achieving football nation of Spain.

Aragones showed the ultimate in football cojones when he brought off two of the most gifted players in Europe, Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Torres, just when Germany, a team you can never easily put away, were shaping up for one last attempt to fight back against waves of Spanish attack.

It was a decision astounding to all those of us railing against the coach's refusal to grant Fabregas his right to a starting position; but, in the end, it simply came down to a matter of choice.

The result, Aragones was able to point out with not even a hint of compromise for the benefit of anyone's finer feelings, was precisely what he had in mind – and, of course, all else was irrelevant.

Fabregas's value to Spain had been a source of fierce debate throughout the tournament but, by half-time, evidence on his behalf had again accumulated in a telling way.

This was despite the fact that the key moment was put in place by Fabregas's rival Xavi's defence-splitting pass to Torres. Although the Liverpool striker still had to do some brilliant, strong work to put his team into the lead after 33 minutes, the pass he received from the Barcelona playmaker was firmly in the Most Desired category for a forward of such heart and quality.

Xavi's pass merely required Torres to devour Philipp Lahm, while running in a small arc around him, before chipping the ball exquisitely beyond Jens Lehmann.

But then, if there is no more crucial statistic in football than a goal, the three fouls which put Germany's captain Michael Ballack in the book of the Italian referee Roberto Rosetti also spoke eloquently of Fabregras's contribution to Spain's gradual lifting of the pressure first applied, in classic fashion, by the Germans.

Three times Ballack, who earlier sustained a cut to his eye in a clash of heads with Spain's formidable organiser and midfield enforcer Marcus Senna, felt it necessary to check Fabregas illegally.

This put the German talisman under the kind of restraints he could well have done without as the Spanish midfield of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and the free-running Fabregas – the bedrock of the team's entire campaign, albeit with Fabregas making his most telling impact from the bench – began to dominate with their growing rhythm.

The high point came when Fabregas, wingback Sergio Ramos and Xavi all combined to send in Torres for a chance which might have broken the Germans' resolve. But then, of course, no team on earth offers itself more unwillingly for breaking than Germany.

Their coach, Joachim Löw, brought off Lahm after his mauling by Torres and midway through the second half his team were beginning to regain a toe-hold in the game.

It was then that Aragones, the man who had so firmly resisted the cry for Fabregas's promotion from his status as Euro 2008's sublime, game-breaking substitute, made the first of two decisions whose brilliance was quite hard to detect through what, for many, would always be a thick cloud of perversity.

He pulled off a stunned Fabregas and sent on Liverpool's even more neglected playmaker Xabi Alonso in the 63rd minute. Then, 15 minutes later, Torres was again yanked from the field, in a game which he had distinguished with a thrilling and still potentially decisive goal.

Neither of these remarkable edicts brought a change of expression from the 69-year-old coach who before this tournament was known beyond the boundaries of Spain chiefly for his reluctance to apologise for a racist slur made against Thierry Henry.

The look on the face of Fabregas, however, certainly did change and suggested that some strong words might pass in Aragones' direction. But then the glory lapped around a Spanish team winning a major trophy for the first time since 1964, and there could be no questioning the fact that he had assembled a group of players prepared to commit utterly to the cause.

Fabregas and Torres may arguably be the two most gifted players in their positions in all of European football; capable, respectively, of the most wonderfully fluency of thought and action and sensational finishing prowess. But it was as though the old and obdurate coach was saying he could do it with any of his chicos, his boys, who had absorbed the most the relentless message of teamwork – his concept of team, before everything.

It meant that even though the Germans did as they always do – fought and tried manfully to rescue something from a game in which they had manifestly been outplayed – the Spanish were too strong in their spirit and too wide in their talent.

Also true was that Fabregas and Torres reappeared to join in the celebrations at the end which included throwing the portly martinet, who will now take up a coaching job in Istanbul, high into the air.

The Germans could only stand and reflect on the fact that this was the second tournament in succession in which they had produced so much of their competitive aura - but, in the end, not nearly enough talent.