Just 24 hours before the World Cup gets underway, follow Cesc Fabregas as he charts Spain’s rise to footballing dominance in Cesc’s Story of Spain.
Six years ago, the former Arsenal captain stepped up to take a penalty against Italy that would change the fortunes of international football’s perennial underachievers.
Despite not having taken a spot kick since schoolboy football, Fabregas slotted home from 12 yards to send Spain into the semi-finals of Euro 2008.
It was an historic moment as Luis Aragones’ side went on to finally live up to the expectations that had been impressed upon them for several years. They cruised past Russia in the last four to set up a final against Germany, who seem to put themselves in the mix at every tournament.
But Fernando Torres proved the hero in Vienna, as his first-half strike was all Spain needed to win their first major competition since 1964.
It ended a torrid period of underachievement, which included a penalty defeat to England at Euro 96, as Spain struggled with the weight of expectation that came with their wealth of talent.
With interviews from current head coach Vicente Del Bosque as well as a host of players past and present – including David Villa, Fernando Hierro, Joan Capdevila and Fernando Morientes – plus celebrities such as Placido Domingo, Fabregas looks at the dark times of Spanish football, when they never fulfilled their potential at major tournaments.
The midfielder hears of splits in the dressing room between players of rival teams, and how the national team failed to united the Spanish public until Aragones, who died earlier this year, got them playing the ‘Spanish way’.
After their triumph in 2008, the pressure was on Spain to perform on the world stage. Del Bosque’s first finals in charge started in the worst possible way as they slumped to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Switzerland.
The European champions recovered to win their remaining two group games before sneaking their way through the knockout stages with successive 1-0 wins over Portugal, Paraguay and Germany.
In a particularly ill-tempered final, goals were again at a premium and it took extra time to separate Spain and the Netherlands as Andres Iniesta struck four minutes from the end to crown them world champions for the first time.
Fabregas examines how the psychology of the team changed during this golden period as they went on to win an unprecedented treble of trophies, winning Euro 2012 in style with a 4-0 win over Italy in Kiev two years ago.
The Barcelona star also looks ahead to this year’s tournament in Brazil, and ponders the chances of Spain setting a stunning record of four in a row.
Watch Cesc’s Story of Spain, Wednesday, 7.30pm, Sky Sports 1.