Until then, the word Spain could barely be written in a footballing context without the prefix: perennial underachievers.
Successive groups of talented players had failed to deliver on the international stage as footballing disappointment became a national dish in the Iberian country.
But that all changed when Spain finally delivered on their promise and landed the European Championship crown in a 1-0 win over Germany.
Since then they have been undoubtedly the best side on the planet, claiming the World Cup in South Africa two years later and rising to number one in the world.
They are the favourites again here but ahead of their opening match against the Italians, Chiellini says it was that quarter-final victory in Vienna, on penalties, against the then world champions Italy that shaped Spain’s destiny.
This time around, four years on, Italy will be the clear underdogs when the two sides meet in their Group C opener in Gdansk on Sunday.
“We know we’re playing a team that has made history in the last four years,” said the Juventus defender.
“It was against us four years ago in Austria that they started to really believe they could be great.
“We must be aware that we can play our game and that it will also be difficult for them against us.”
Spain are not just the best team but in the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Silva they have some of the best players in Europe.
But Chiellini is covinced that the Azzurri can prevail through teamwork.
“One player is not enough to stop a player like Iniesta, Silva or Xavi,” he said.
“With all these great Spain players you need to play together, to play for each other and to help each other in every moment in every part of the pitch.
“That’s the only way to stop the great individuality of Spain.”
Given how Italy played, and most of all defended, last Friday in a 3-0 humbling by Russia in Zurich, it would seem they have little hope of keeping out the Spaniards.
Chiellini missed that game through injury but he says the criticism Italy received afterwards was justified, although he warned against writing them off completely due to one bad performance.
After all, Italy qualified for the finals with two games to spare in their group and had the best defensive record in qualifying.
“Last week there were many attacks which were more or less just and right,” he said humbly.
“We’ve tried to restablish calm. We’re used to that because we’re used to putting up with this type of press.
“We have found and will continue to find ways to isolate ourselves and work hard because this has nothing to do with what goes on on the pitch.
“There has been a drop in results since we reached our objective (of qualifying for the Euros) but it’s too much to say that we’ve disappeared.”
Since then, however, they have played three friendly matches and lost all three — to Uruguay, USA and now Russia — without so much as scoring a goal.
A vast improvement both up front and in defence is needed if they are to stand any chance of repeating the 2-1 friendly success they had against Spain in Bari last August.