They had waited 44 long and painful years but Spain finally got their hands on their first piece of major silverware since 1964 as they gave Germany a football masterclass in Vienna to win Euro 2008.
Rarely will a 1-0 win have failed to reflect the victorious side’s superiority as Luis Aragones’s side passed and moved their way past Germany’s two dimensional challenge to be crowned European champions. Fernando Torres’ first-half strike proved the difference but the Spanish could, perhaps should have made their stylish triumph more empathic.
There was only one contender but Torres’ decisive 33rd minute striker was certainly worthy of deciding such a big game. The superb Xavi broke towards the German box and found the Liverpool striker lurking in the channel between centre back Christoph Metzelder and full-back Philipp Lahm. Torres was quickest to react, slipping the ball past Lahm, turning on the afterburners and beating Jens Lehmann to the punch, chipping the German goalkeeper with a inch-perfect lob that nestled in the far corner.
Marcos Senna is at his happiest patrolling the space in front of his back four, so it was slightly surreal seeing the defensive midfielder surging into the German box with less than 10 minutes left on the clock. Senna himself instigated the Spanish attack, Xavi provided the inviting far post cross and substitute Kevin Kuranyi unselfishly headed the ball across the face of goal where Senna suddenly – and uncharacteristically- appeared. Sadly for Spain’s pocket battleship, he was unable to reach the ball despite an impressive karate-style lunge and a simple tap in went begging.
Lehmann was at his temperamental best in Vienna but there was no doubting his quality after 14 minutes when he pulled off an instinctive save that kept Spain, albeit temporarily, at bay. A slick exchange between Xavi and Andres Iniesta saw the latter surged deep into the German area and when the playmaker delivered a crisp cross into the six yard box, the ball hit Metzelder and seemed destined for the net until Lehmann shot out a right hand to turn it around the post.
Kuranyi had little more than half an hour to make an impact on the final and his frustration was there for all to see as Germany failed to pose any significant threat. His temper finally boiled over two minutes from time when he challenged Senna but arrived a split second too late to win the ball. He still carried through with his tackle and ran his studs down the back of Senna’s right calf, leaving the Spaniard writhing on the floor.
Spain were totally dominant in the final but enjoyed a significant slice of luck on the half hour when Germany made a rare foray into their box. The end result of the attack was an awkward but innocuous bobbling ball but just as full-back Joan Capdevilla looked to clear, it bobbled again and hit his right hand. In truth, it would have been a harsh decision by Italian referee Roberto Rosetti to award the spot kick but by the letter of the law, Germany should have had a penalty.
There was much to admire in Spain’s performance but the man who consistently pulled the strings was Iniesta. The Barcelona midfielder was imperious throughout, switching flanks at will with David Silva and terrorising the German defence with his energy and vision. Wherever he appeared on the pitch, Spain enjoyed success and he was superb on the ball, conducting the Spanish orchestra with a sublime but understated authority.
German fans had high hopes of Bastian Schweinsteiger after his performances earlier in the tournament but the midfielder endured a miserable final in which all aspects of his game suffered. The Bayern Munich star failed to stamp his authority on the match and his final delivery was poor, nullifying the aerial superiority of which the Germans had such high hopes. He was chasing shadows trying to track down the Spanish midfielder and he had no impact in the final third of the pitch.
THE TWO GAFFERS
He was forced to change his formation with Villa’s absence through injury and although the deployment of Cesc Fabregas in the second striker’s role was not a great success, who can argue with a coach who’s side play such attractive football? Aragones’ midfield was a joy to watch and the brand of football his side have produced in the European Championship cannot be praised highly enough.
Germany always knew they would have to concede the lions’ share of possession to Spain but Low found no way to counter that imbalance. Naive and cumbersome at the back, Germany’s failure to create out wide was their undoing and the decision to play Klose up front on his own to bolster the midfield backfired on Low. He sacrificed attacking potential but Germany were still outplayed in the middle and the coach simply got it wrong.
A look at the two Euro 2008 finalists, their strengths and weaknesses and what both teams need to do in order to win the cup.
Germany have had a topsy-turvy tournament, losing to Croatia and struggling against Turkey but dispatching quarter-final opponents Portugal with ease. While the Spanish team is probably more talented than their Iberian counterparts, both sides aim to slow the game down, something that will suit the Germans just fine considering how at sea they were against the high-tempo Turks.
Expect Loew to put out a 4-5-1 to nullify Spain’s midfield threat and to capitalise on Germany’s aerial advantage. Despite the below-par semifinal performance Germany are sure to be up for this one, with the likes of Ballack, Klose, Frings (if he comes back in as expected) and Schweinsteiger to rise to the challenge. Mentally the Germans are quite strong but they will have to be patient and focus – the last thing they need is to lose concentration for a split second and concede a goal.
What I’d like to see is for Germany to play a high-tempo game and push Spain on the backfoot with a 4-5-1 that denies them the space or time to launch effective counter-attacks. It’s not going to happen though since that’s an almost suicidal approach, so you can expect Germany to sit back, mark Torres out of the game, try to score in the first 45 minutes and then play on the counter.
Fabregas deserves a starting spot based on his recent performances and Villa’s injury may prompt Aragones to give Cesc a start in a 4-5-1 formation that gives the Spanish midfield contingent more options to go forward. This team is on a 21-match unbeaten run and they can make it 22 as long as they don’t get flustered and keep their defence tight. With the way Spain are playing, they’re bound to score a goal and as long as they can defend properly, Lehmann will be the more worried of two keepers in Ernst Happel.
Russia were not able to capitalise on Villa’s injury but Germany can and you might see Torres tightly marked out of the game. Spain also lack in the height department but that shouldn’t rattle this bunch too much – they are perfectly capable of keeping the game on the floor as it as.
To win, Spain will need to raise the tempo of their game and with a 5-man midfield then can afford to do push forward more than usual. The sit-back-and-wait strategy has worked really well for them so far but Germany in my mind would be more comfortable playing against that than against a high-tempo Spain. It’s risky, but Aragones seems inspired and he might switch tactics to spur his team on over the final hurdle.
Can Fabregas stamp his mark on this tournament with a match-winning performance? Can Michael Ballack finally win a big international tournament? Both teams look certain to score in every game but so far Germany have had the leakier defense, so my money is on Spain to win 2-1.
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Soccerlens.com will be back after the game bringing you the match report.