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
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
Referee: Roberto Rosetti, Italy
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)