France broke quickly, and the ball reached Zinedine Zidane, who cut inside onto his right foot and buried an effort beyond Iker Casillas – eliminating Spain and ensuring that the French were through to the quarter-finals in the same moment. It was Hanover, the 27th June 2006, and Spain, forever the underachieving tournament chokers, had just been knocked out of yet another World Cup too early, leaving behind nothing but a trail of ripped up betting slips and regret. Enough was enough for the Spanish game – four years of change were about to start.
In a way they had already begun. Barcelona had been European champions for just over a month, Sevilla had crushed Middlesbrough in the UEFA Cup final and would win an all-Spanish final against Espanyol a year later, some of Spain’s top players had already started making an impact abroad, but they were to be outshone by the spectacular success that Fernando Torres – that young, dynamic Atleti who was the symbol of his beloved Atl