Why Euro 2008 Was the Greatest Major Tournament of All Time

Fernando Torres
Spain won Euro 2008, rounding off a stunning tournament | Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Major tournaments are often remembered fondly for the superb teams that stamped their mark upon them; the legendary 1970 Brazil side, Johan Cruyff's fabulous Holland team of 1974, the 1986 Argentina lineup inspired by Diego Maradona.

There is one international tournament that went one better.

Cast your minds back to June 2008. Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, Barack Obama had just been nominated to run as the Democrats' presidential election candidate, and the Ting Tings were flying high in the UK charts.

Pepe Reina, David Villa
David Villa won the 2008 Golden Boot | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

But more importantly, the great and good of European international football were descending upon Austria and Switzerland for what would become the greatest major tournament of all time: Euro 2008.

It ticked the box of having that rare, revolutionary international side - Spain - but it is not solely remembered for the football they played. The tournament brought so much more.

There was an unpredictability to every game, with an 'anything can happen' narrative running throughout the tournament. Upsets were so regular that it was suddenly more of a shock when teams started following the script. There were multiple unfancied, underdog nations to become attached to, and they played with a fearlessness and a freedom, as opposed to the admittedly effective and remarkable but no doubt defensive and boring Greece side who had robustly defended their way to Euro 2004 glory.

And Euro 2008 absolutely loved a dramatic late goal.

France and Italy were big favourites ahead of the tournament, but both underwhelmed
France and Italy were big favourites ahead of the tournament, but both underwhelmed | DANIEL MIHAILESCU/Getty Images

The major excitement and chatter in the build up to the tournament was Group C. Every major tournament has a group of death, and Group C at Euro 2008 was an absolute morgue.

Group C consisted of reigning world champions Italy and beaten 2006 World Cup finalists France, in addition to a pretty tasty looking Holland side and Adrian Mutu's Romania.

France and Italy were scheduled to meet in the final group fixture - a match which would surely determine who would top the group of death.

Holland had other ideas. The Netherlands were absolutely unstoppable, completely blowing world champions Italy away in the pair's first game of the tournament with a comprehensive 3-0 victory, before recording an emphatic 4-1 win over France four days later. Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and co were simply devastating. They sailed into the quarter finals with maximum points.

But it wasn't just in Group C where trees were being torn up.

Holland were unstoppable
Holland were unstoppable | Johannes Simon/Getty Images

Turkey's European Championship campaign had been kept alive by a 92nd minute Arda Turan strike against Switzerland to set up a winner takes all clash against the Czech Republic in their final group game.

Unfortunately, Turkey found themselves 2-0 inside an hour. With European dreams fading fast, Turan pulled one back in the 75th minute to offer a glimmer of hope, before Nihat popped up with two astonishing goals in the space of three astonishing minutes to complete a remarkable turnaround, trigger scenes of such infectious joy and send Turkey through to the last eight.

The Turkey magic didn't stop there. In the quarter finals they faced Croatia - who had topped their group after a surprise victory over Germany - and the pair served up a torrid 118 minutes of football. But with just one minute of extra time remaining, Croatia looked to have snuck into the semi finals when Ivan Klasnic bundled home, only for Semih Senturk to net an equaliser in the 122nd minute. Turkey's fairytale continued as they progressed on penalties.

Turkey were frantic, breathless and chaotic, encapsulating everything that there was to love about Euro 2008 in one hectic ball of fun.

Turkey loved a late goal
Turkey loved a late goal | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

In the other half of the draw, Holland, who had looked so destructive and unbeatable, were beaten in the last eight by Russia - a side who had been thumped 4-1 by Spain only 11 days earlier. Andrey Arshavin announced himself on the international stage by scampering through the Netherlands' backline and wrapping up a 3-1 extra time victory, a boyish grin spread across his face.

Flair and style are not words traditionally associated with Russian football, but with Guus Hiddink at the helm, Russia had out panache-d Holland.

But at Euro 2008, just when you started to fancy a side, they would have their comeuppance. Late goal kings Turkey fell at the semi final stage to a 90th minute Philipp Lahm winner (one of 22 goals scored after the 80th minute during the tournament), while after exuberant Russia had beaten exuberant Holland, they were then exuberantly knocked out by exuberant Spain.

Spain were the classy topping to decorate the cake of absolute chaos that was Euro 2008.

Spain were worthy winners of a memorable tournament
Spain were worthy winners of a memorable tournament | JOE KLAMAR/Getty Images

With the impeccable Xavi and Andres Iniesta - very much the Ting Tings of tiki-taka - as the dynamic, beating heart of this creative, imaginative, inventive side, a nation who had underwhelmed on the international stage for so long finally came good and were crowned kings of the continent.

Spain put their attacking faith in marauding fullbacks and made holding midfielders do so much more than just hold. They passed and passed and passed their way to glory, and the philosophy that Luis Aragonés instilled into his 2008 side can still be seen throughout the most successful sides in world football today.

Spain were the winners that this thrilling tournament deserved. From Holland to Turkey, from Andrey Arshavin right down to the goal music (That's Not My Name by the Ting Tings. Just kidding, I bloody wish. It was Samba De Janiero by Bellini) - everything at Euro 2008 had an infectious sense of fun. It was football at its purest.