Spain defeated Italy 4-0 in the final of Euro 2012 on Sunday.  Until 2010, Spain was one of the best soccer playing countries to have never won a World Cup. But a lot happened between the 2010 World Cup win over the Netherlands and the beginnings of soccer in Spain.  Jimmy Burns chronicled the history of the Spanish national team in his recent book, La Roja:  How Soccer Conquered Spain and how Spanish Soccer Conquered the World. He joined Bill Littlefield on this week’s Only A Game.

Bill’s thoughts on La Roja:

I’ll admit my bias up front.

I’m a fan of soccer as it’s played in Spain, especially by F.C. Barcelona, which has lent lots of players to the national team.

But even people unfamiliar with the glorious present and storied past of soccer in Spain will enjoy this history by Jimmy Burns. He’s a soccer lover, certainly, but above all he’s a storyteller with a sense of how history, politics, and personalities provide our games with the subplots behind the play-by-play. In La Roja, he’s concerned with how the Spanish bent the game they learned from transplanted Englishmen into a triumphant expression of their own character.

In part, as Burns suggests in his introduction, La Roja is about “how world soccer’s great underachiever became world soccer’s great champion.” But it’s also the fascinating story of a nation made up of regions different from and hostile toward each other, a country where political and personal tensions have often been represented on the soccer field, sometimes by some of the most accomplished and celebrated players in the world, but a country that has nevertheless managed to produce a national team characterized by teamwork so extraordinary that it’s art.

He’s spent enough time around the players and coaches of F.C. Barcelona and Real Madrid to provide readers with the goods regarding two of the world’s most accomplished teams, but he’s also done his homework regarding the way Francisco Franco used his favorite soccer team (Real Madrid) to propagandize for his dictatorship.