VIENNA, Austria – Big-game flops no more, Spain won the European Championship 1-0 over Germany on Sunday for its first major title in 44 years.
Fernando Torres scored in the 33rd minute and the Spaniards never backed down against such a formidable opponent. Their last significant title came in the 1964 Euros at home.
In beating a team that makes a habit of appearing in championship finals, the Spaniards put to rest a reputation for underachieving. Always loaded with talented players, Spain has spent four decades falling short of expectations.
That all changed at these Euros, where the Spaniards swept their first-round games, eliminated World Cup champion Italy in a penalty-kicks shootout in the quarterfinals, then routed Russia 3-0 in the semifinals.
Against the highly accomplished Germans, they weren't intimidated. They got the one goal they needed — from a slumping striker, no less — and set off chants of "ES-PANA," and "Ole, Ole Ole" at the final whistle.
The entire Spanish squad ran over to the huge rooting section of red and gold, exchanging hugs, while many of the spent Germans collapsed to the turf.
When Spain goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas accepted the trophy on a stage, the Spanish fans began chanting the melody to their national anthem, which has no words. Thousands of camera flashes went off as the players jumped in place, then headed onto the field to show off their prize.
Germany has won three Euros and three World Cups, but was no match in this final. Captain Michael Ballack, questionable before the game with a calf injury, started, but hardly was noticeable — except when he left for several minutes to have a bloody right eye treated.
Torres, who had 33 goals for Liverpool this season but has been invisible in Euros, came through off a brilliant feed from Xavi Hernandez.
Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, at 38 the oldest player in the competition, charged from his net when he saw that defender Philipp Lahm was beaten on the right side. But Torres chipped the ball over the sliding Lehmann and into the gaping net.
The crowd of 51,428 at Ernst Happel Stadium, split almost equally between Germany and Spain, might have expected the Spaniards to go into a protective shell. Instead, and even without leading scorer David Villa (leg injury), they continued to carry the attack and were far more dangerous than Germany the rest of the way.
Indeed, Lehmann, who helped the Germans to third place in the 2006 World Cup, kept it close with several tough saves.
A crowd of about 68,000 packed Vienna's downtown fan zone to watch the final, police said. In Germany, flags fluttered from balconies and car antennas across the country. In Berlin, an estimated 400,000 fans watched the game on large outdoor screens.
Spain has never made a World Cup final and was in one other Euros final, aside from the 1964 triumph. That was a loss to France in 1984.
With two of the world's top clubs, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, the nation has tons of talent. What it has lacked is fortitude.
No one can say that anymore.