Soccer America
Wednesday December 31st, 2008

It was six months ago that fans were treated to a scintillating European Championship. Here's a look at how the leading actors of Euro 2008 are now faring:

SPAIN. No team has captured the World Cup two years after winning the European Championship since West Germany did it in 1974, but Spain will certainly be one of the favorites to win the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The Spaniards were clearly the best team at a tournament notable for its high quality.

Moreover, Spain fielded a young team, with stars Fernando Torres, Cesc Fàbregas, Andrés Iniesta, David Silva and Sergio Ramos all younger than 25. The oldest starters were Brazilian-born Marcos Senna at 31 and captain Carles Puyol and Joan Capdevila at 30. Such was Spain's depth that Fabregas and Xabi Alonso (only 26) were used off the bench for most of the tournament.

Spain hasn't missed a beat since Vicente del Bosque replaced as Luis Aragonés as head coach. It won its first four World Cup qualifiers and opened up a four-point lead in Group 5. Del Bosque is already looking toward the future. Barcelona's Bojan Krkic, 18, debuted for Spain in September, and 20-year-old midfielder Juan Mata was brought into the Spanish team for its friendly against Chile in November.

FERNANDO TORRES. Torres' goal against Germany in the final capped a brilliant '07-08 season. El Niño scored 33 goals -- 24 in the EPL -- in his first season at Liverpool. His second season got off to a rocky start, however. Hamstring injuries have kept him in and out of the lineup all season. With the Reds leading the English Premier League race, coach Rafa Benítez has said there is no guarantee he would start Torres. "The players have to compete for their positions in the side, be it Torres or anyone else," Benítez said. "Torres has to improve, if he does and he is fit, then I will decide what to do, although I expect to be criticized."

DAVID VILLA. Until his injury in the semifinals against Russia, Villa was the best striker at Euro '08. He scored a hat trick in the first Russia game and added the winning goal against Sweden. He typified the secret to the Spanish success: determination, teamwork -- and lots of skill. After Euro '08, Villa returned to Valencia, where he averaged almost 20 league goals a season in his first three years. He has been on course to top that mark, scoring 12 goals in his first 13 games to put Valencia in the hunt for La Liga title.

LUIS ARAGONÉS. A 30-year coaching career took the Wise Man of Hortaleza to eight different Spanish clubs before he was hired as Spain's national team coach in '04. He had already announced before Euro '08 that he was quitting as Spain coach at the end of the tournament, so it was no surprise when word leaked out during the finals that he would be headed to Turkey to coach Fenerbahçe. How long the 70-year-old Aragones would last at Fener was a matter of conjecture. Elimination from the Champions League and the worst league start in two decades left the Istanbul club in crisis.

ANDREI ARSHAVIN. No player's stock increased as quickly at Euro '08 as did the 27-year-old striker's following two sensational performances against Sweden and Russia. He was suspended for the first two games but coach Guus Hiddink thought so much of the Zenit St. Petersburg striker that he included him in his 23-player squad anyway.

Arshavin immediately became the hottest player on the summer transfer market. There was only one problem -- there were no takers. Zenit hoped to get $30 million for Arshavin, but the price tag was too high. Zenit rebuffed a bid from Barcelona, and Arsenal rejected Arshavin as being too old to rate a $30 million price tag. Now Zenit must wait until the January transfer market for a deal to be cut. Struggling Real Madrid could land Arshavin, and Arsenal has thrown its hat back into the ring.

LUKAS PODOLSKI. The 23-year-old striker is an enigma. He has been tremendous for his adopted Germany but unimpressive at Bayern Munich. Podolski was named the top young player at the '06 World Cup and was again outstanding for Germany at Euro '08, beginning with his two goals against his native Poland in the opening game. Podolski scored only nine goals in his first two seasons at Bayern, and things got worse this fall. His future at Bayern Munich was in doubt after coach Jürgen Klinsmann left him out of the Bayern squad for a game against Borussia Mönchengladbach in mid-November. Klinsmann insisted Podolski was not fit but he played against England four days later.

MARCO VAN BASTEN. The former Dutch great's coaching reputation got a huge boost when the Oranje clobbered Italy and France, the '06 World Cup finalists, in the Oranje's first two games at Euro '08. Its overtime loss to Russia in the quarterfinals was of little mind.

The Dutch were one of the great stories of Euro '08, playing with the swagger and attacking spirit that van Basten displayed in a playing career cut short by injuries. He was never a likely candidate to go into coaching, but after almost a decade in retirement he joined Ajax, the club at which he started his career, as an assistant in its reserve program. After four years with the Dutch national team -- it fell to Portugal in the second round of the '06 World Cup -- van Basten returned to Ajax, where is again working his magic.

The Amsterdam club is three points back of first-place AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie and into a UEFA Cup round-of-32 matchup with Fiorentina. After a slow start, van Basten has Ajax back on course toward reaching his goal of making it once again the preeminent Dutch club.

RUUD VAN NISTELROOY. To van Basten's credit, he reconciled with van Nistelrooy, the Oranje's best and most experienced striker, after they clashed following van Basten's decision not to play the veteran in the 1-0 loss to Portugal in the second round of the '06 World Cup. Van Nistelrooy was left out of the Dutch squad for a year before returning in September '07.

He came through with an excellent Euro '08, scoring the first goal against Italy and the late equalizer in the quarterfinal loss to Russia in overtime, but his future is in doubt. Playing for Real Madrid, van Nistelrooy suffered a knee injury that will keep him out of action until next season. At 32, he finds his career in jeopardy. "It's a long time to be out but there was no other way," he says. "The injury is serious."

RAYMOND DOMENECH. When we last heard from Domenech at Euro '08, he was proposing to his longtime girlfriend. Asked for his thoughts following Les Bleus' shock exit from Euro '08 -- three games, one point, one goal scored, six against -- Domenech responded, "The only thing I am thinking of now is getting married to Estelle. I am asking her for her hand in marriage."

Most observers figured Domenech was a goner, but the French soccer federation (FFF) chose to give the 56-year-old coach a lifeline. Thanks to the support of UEFA president Michel Platini and French technical director Gérard Houllier, the FFF confirmed Domenech's contract, which it has extended through the 2010 World Cup just two days before the start of Euro '08. Its executive committee met again in October and gave Domenech a vote of confidence -- despite the Bleus' slow start to World Cup qualifying (four points in its first three games).

PORTUGAL. Another perennial European power in trouble is Portugal. A 3-2 loss at home to Sweden and a 0-0 tie with Albania at home left the Portuguese with only five points in four games, in a three-way tie for third place behind Denmark (with a game in hand) and Hungary, the Group 1 leaders. The Albania result left fans demanding the resignation of coach Carlos Queiroz. Albania played with 10 men after Admir Teli was sent off just before halftime, but the Portuguese looked clueless in attack.

"It is a big frustrating result," acknowledged Queiroz, who replaced Luiz Felipe Scolari following Euro '08. "We are disappointed because we never expected this draw against Albania at home, mainly because Albania played most of the game with 10 men. We acknowledge that our performance was poor." Even the return of Cristiano Ronaldo, who missed the first two qualifiers, didn't help.

CO-HOSTS. After crashing out in the first round with only one win between them, Euro '08 co-hosts Austria and Switzerland regrouped. Both hired well-known coaches -- Czech Karel Brückner took over as Austria coach and Ottmar Hitzfeld left Bayern Munich to coach his native Switzerland. Their results to date have been inconsistent, to say the least. The Austrians opened World Cup 2010 qualifying with an impressive 3-1 win over France in Vienna. A month later they returned to the Ernst Happel Stadium and lost to Serbia, 3-1. The Swiss fell at home to Luxembourg, 2-1, but a month later won by the same score at Group 2 leader Greece.

This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine. Click here for a free three-month subscription.

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