Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Greatest Euro Matches: Spain-Germany (2008)

The final of the 2008 European Championships saw the clash between the old superpower in European football, Germany, clash with the new superpower, Spain.
Spain had always been a contender for titles but without ever fulfilling its potential. Their only title was the 1964 Euro, won at home after only two matches, in a tournament where many nations in Europe did not participate. So Spain had been hungering for the success that its club teams were getting. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid were among the best clubs in the world, and in particular the Catalonian side was providing the Spanish national side with a hugely talented generation that played a characteristic style of football based on possession and passing. The two FC Barcelona midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta were already important players of the team alongside the more experienced Villarreal midfielders Marcos Senna and Joan Capdevilla. But also players who had gone to England were pushing their way into the team such as Liverpool's Xabi Alonso and Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas. In defense Spain had one of the best in the world, FC Barcelona's Carles Puyol, alongside Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos and Valencia's Carlos Marchena. And behind them these defenders had arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Iker Casillas from Real Madrid, who also captained the team. Up front Valencia's David Villa, Mallorca's Dani Guiza and Liverpool's Fernando Torres fought to be the starting striker.
All in all Spain was a team combining experienced with an incredibly talented young generation that would come to dominate European football.
Spain had qualified ahead of Sweden, Northern Ireland and Denmark. In the first round they made clean sheet by defeating Russia, Sweden and defending champions Greece. In the quarterfinals they had to go into a nerve-wrecking penalty contest to defeat Italy. This was hugely important for Spain, who had always had a complex about losing to Italy in important matches (this would indeed be a tournament that would destroy a lot of Spanish complexes). In the semifinals Spain trashed Russia 0-3, and were ready to face the historically greatest European side, Germany.
Germany had a strong combination of youth and experience. The undisputed captain and star of the team was Chelsea's Michael Ballack. In goal was the 38 year old veteran Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann. Hertha Berlin's experienced Arne Friedrich in defense played along Real Madrid's Cristoph Metzelder and the already experienced youngsters Philipp Lahm from Bayern Munich and Per Mertescaker from Werder Bremen. Another youngster with huge experience was Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinsteigger in midfield. Up front different players disputed the positions: Stuttgart's Mario Gomez, Schalke 04's Kevin Kuranyi, and the two veterans, Oliver Neuville from Borussia Monchengladbach and Miroslav Klose from Bayern Munich.
Germany were hungry for Euro success. While they had reached the 2002 World Cup final and the 2006 World Cup semifinals, they had been eliminated in the first round of the European championships in both 2000 and 2004. Still, they were confident that the more offensive style introduced by Jurgen Klinsmann in 2006 and continued under the new coach Joachim Low, would prove effective with a team that had become very popular in Germany proper.
Although qualification was never in doubt for Germany, they only made it through on second place behind the Czech Republic. In the first round they defeated Austria and Poland, and although losing to Croatia, they went through to the quarterfinals on second place. There they defeated Portugal 3-2 and in the semifinals they went through another thrilling match defeating the surprising Turkey 3-2. They were in the final on strong fight and will, but captain Michael Ballack was doubtful for the final with an injury.
The final took place in Vienna in a tournament that had been co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland. And the final was completely dominated by Spain, who from the start but pressure and dominated possession. In the first 20 minutes Andres Iniesta came close to scoring, and Fernando Torres had a header on the post. And after half an hour it was indeed the Liverpool striker who brought Spain deservedly ahead: Xavi made one of his through-passes through the defense, where Philipp Lahm hesitated for one moment, and Fernando Torres rushed past him and elegantly lobbed the ball over the outcoming goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann.
If anything, Spain's lead was too small at halftime, but in the second half Spanish dominance continued. But Xavi, Iniesta and Sergio Ramos all missed big chances to give Spain a second, maintaining Germany's feeble hope for an equalizer. But in reality they never came really close. Instead, Marcos Senna also had a huge chance in the final part of the match.
Spain won 1-0, which was none too small, as Spain had been absolutely dominant throughout the tournament and had sealed their superiority in this match.
Two years later the two nations would face one another again in the World Cup semi-final, with the exact same result; one that sealed Spain's total dominance of world football.

Vienna, 29th June 2008, Ernst Happel Stadium 
Attendance: 51,428 
Referee: Roberto Rosetti, Italy 

Spain-Germany 1-0 

Spain: Iker Casillas (c); Sergio Ramos, Carlos Marchena, Carles Puyol, Joan Capdevilla, Marcos Senna, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas (Xabi Alonso, 63), David Silva (Santi Cazorla, 66), Fernando Torres (Dani Guiza, 78). Coach: Luis Aragones. 
Germany: Jens Lehmann; Arne Friderich, Per Mertesacker, Cristoph Metzelder, Philipp Lahm (Marcell Janse, 46), Torsten Frings, Thomas Hitzlsperger (Kevin Kuranyi, 58), Bastian Schweinsteiger, Michael Ballack (c), Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose (Mario Gomez, 79). Coach: Joachim Low. 

1-0 Fernando Torres (33)

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