Moment of the Year: Soccer
Spain got the monkey off its back at Euro 2008 and ushered in new era of hope
The U.S. women's Olympic gold was the greatest on-field triumph in their history
Spain's 1-0 win over Germany in the Euro 2008 final in June gave the Spaniards their first European championship since 1964 (and second major trophy in their country's history).
La Furia Roja's victory was a victory for entertaining soccer. Nothing against the Germans, who played some memorable games in the tournament, but Spain was the best team in Euro 2008 -- and its championship was a symbolic reward in a Euro when attacking soccer came back to the forefront after a dark and dreary Euro 2004.
Spain created more chances than Germany in the final and deserved to win, but Luis AragonÚs' men also played honest defense, allowing not a single goal in the three knockout-round games against Italy, Russia and Germany. The final won't go down as a classic in the annals of the sport (how many finals ever do?) but it did conclude a classic tournament, one that I still consider to be the best major international soccer tournament since the 1986 World Cup.
Spain's England-based guys added even more nuance to their team's attack. For most of the tournament, I thought AragonÚs undervalued his Premier League players: primarily Fernando Torres (who'd never play 90 minutes) and Cesc FÓbregas (who wasn't able to crack the first-team lineup until the final). But Torres and Fabregas ended up being two of Spain's most important players in this title run, not least because they melded the traditional Spanish short-passing style with a more direct approach that shows the influence of the league in which they play.
El Ni˝o's hard-earned goal in the final wasn't the only chance he created with the sort of scrappy hustle that we usually associate with Germany (and England), not Spain, and if the Spanish can continue to meld that grit with their youth, technical skill and forgetfulness of their past, we may be on the verge of a Spanish-dominated era in world soccer.
Meanwhile, the U.S. women's gold-medal-winning 1-0 triumph over Brazil in the Olympic soccer final in Beijing became the most impressive on-field accomplishment in their history.
Think of what this U.S. team had to deal with: the loss of its best player, Abby Wambach, to a broken leg right before the Olympics; the attention over the Hope Solo controversy; the installation of a completely new possession-based attack under first-year coach Pia Sundhage; a 2-0 loss to Norway in the Olympic opener; endless comparisons to the Mia Hamm-led teams of the past; a final against the same Brazil outfit that beat the Americans 4-0 last year; and the continued improvement of other teams from around the world.
Nothing will ever match the 1999 Women's World Cup in terms of breakthroughs into the public consciousness, but from an on-field perspective, this Olympic gold is the U.S. women's most impressive achievement -- a tribute to the remarkable toughness of this team.