The Green and White Army came in their thousands to witness a happy ending to the fairytale but, in the end, a major tournament will be confined to another chapter for this Northern Ireland squad.
But what a campaign. David Healy broke the European goal-scoring record with 13 unforgettable goals in the qualifying series.
Unfortunately, the Killyleagh man couldn't add to his tally in Gran Canaria last night but with Sweden winning in Stockholm, this result was irrelevant.
But every Northern Ireland player can be proud of an outstanding campaign.
With 45 minutes remaining, they still had a serious chance of making it to Austria and Switzerland next summer. European football take note.
A standing ovation greeted the players at the final whistle and no wonder. They did their country proud.
While Nigel Worthington was forced into two changes because of suspensions to Keith Gillespie and Jonny Evans, Spain coach Luis Aragones had the luxury of making six changes to the side that swept aside Sweden on Saturday.
But, despite the heroic performance on Saturday against Denmark, the men in white shirts even looked nervous during the national anthems.
The start to the game wouldn't have helped that mood as the home side kept the ball for almost a minute - and in that space of time, Sweden took an early lead against Latvia in Stockholm.
The massive task was just nudged up a gargantuan step but this Northern Ireland team doesn't know how to surrender.
Spain were refusing to let Northern Ireland near the ball with Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos causing havoc on the right flank.
On eight minutes hearts were in the mouth when local boy David Silva went crashing to the ground in the box after Stephen Craigan tripped and stumbled into him but German referee Herbert Fandel waved play on, much to the delight of the 4,000 members of the Green and White Army.
An out-stretched foot from Aaron Hughes and a block from the superb Gareth McAuley thwarted the Spanish onslaught and the equally heroic Craigan put his body in the way of a strike from debut boy Daniel Guiza.
But as the half wore on, Northern Ireland grew in stature and David Healy tried his luck from distance with a dipping half volley.
For all Spain's possession, their first effort to test Maik Taylor didn't arrive until 26 minutes and the Birmingham man was equal to the task.
At the same time Juris Laizan drew Latvia level in Stockholm. Game on!
Taylor was struggling to cope with the slippery surface until his comfortable save from Guiza but he soon found his form.
Silva threatened a minute later but Taylor and Sammy Clingan combined to clear the danger and the ineffective Cesc Fabregas' strike was easily dealt with.
Five minutes before the interval, Iniesta's deflected shot forced Taylor into a finger-tip save and Guiza headed just wide a minute later.
There was no respite and Marcos Senna's long-range drive bounced in front of Taylor but, once again, he smothered the effort before saving Silva's effort on the stroke of half time.
It was backs-to-the-wall stuff but Northern Ireland were hanging in there and still in with a realistic chance of turning the Euro 2008 dream into a reality.
The disappointing Ivan Sproule made way for Stephen Robinson at the interval but before the change had any time to impact the game, Spain hammered the first nail in the qualification coffin on 53 minutes.
Barcelona midfielder Xavi picked the ball up 30 yards from goal and let fly. But, with Taylor set, the ball glanced off the head of Craigan and flew into the far corner of the net.
The odds were stacked even further against Northern Ireland within minutes when Kim Kallstrom edged the Swedes ahead again in Stockholm.
This was it. Northern Ireland had to go for it but with Spain's half time substitute Joaquin running the show with teasing runs and deliveries into the box, the task was now almost impossible.
Kyle Lafferty, the hero in Sweden last month, replaced Chris Brunt on the hour and Martin Paterson was introduced for the first time into international football.
Worthington knew it was now do or die.
Tensions were bubbling and Healy and Lafferty were booked within minutes of each other for late challenges.
But still Northern Ireland gave it everything. Healy, in some distress with a leg injury, was playing through the pain and, with two goals a must if Mission Impossible was to have yet another sequel, he fought on.
But, unfortunately, neither Healy nor anyone in a white shirt could find a breakthrough and the sequel will have to wait for the World Cup in 2010.
Maik Taylor 6
The Birmingham keeper made two fine saves in the first half from long range efforts as Spain laid siege on our goal.
Gareth McAuley 7
Tricky night for the Leicester City captain but he defended for his life at right back against the imposing and classy Spanish stars.
Chris Baird 6
Asked to play in the unfamiliar position of left back and struggled in the opening exchanges but Improved as match wore on.
Aaron Hughes 7
A courageous display from our brave captain who held the back four's line well and made superb clearance under pressure.
Stephen Craigan 7
It was tough to see the ball deflect off his head and past Maik Taylor for Spain's goal. He had defended so resolutely up until then.
Sammy Clingan 7
Worked tirelessly in the midfield, especially in the second half when he attempted on numerous occasions to start Northern Ireland attacks.
Ivan Sproule 5
Wanted to perform well against the Spanish after being given an opportunity with Keith Gillespie suspended. It just wasn't his night.
Steve Davis 6
Wasn't the star on this occasion and was forced to tackle hard. Worked hard and closed down well alongside Sammy Clingan.
David Healy 6
You could argue our goal hero only had a half chance with a first volley that he blasted over the bar. Not his night for a change.
Warren Feeney 6
Worked hard but because of the tight Spanish marking the Swansea striker wasn't allowed to get even a sniff of a goal.
Chris Brunt 6
Ineffective on the left flank. His job last night was to defend as the Spanish stars forced him to retreat and help left full back Baird.
Stephen Robinson 6 ; on for Ivan Sproule (46 minutes)
Kyle Lafferty 6 ; on for Chris Brunt (59 minutes)
Martin Patterson 6 ; on for Warren Feeney (72 minutes)
By Paul Ferguson