The thirteenth edition of the UEFA European Championship saw its second joint hosting, with alpine nations Austria and Switzerland providing the entertainment. The selection of the hosts was for some commentators somewhat controversial: while the first jointly-hosted tournament at Euro 2000 had seen a free ticket being given to a Belgian side that had not qualified for the tournament for sixteen years, the country had at least reached the final in 1980; not even this could be applied to Austria, a country that had never even qualified for the final tournament before.
The overall format was the same as in Portugal in 2004 with the sixteen finalists being divided into four groups of four and the top two qualifying for the knock-out rounds, but was slightly different from previous tournaments as the teams from Groups A and B were kept in separate halves of the draw from groups C and D until the final itself. This meant that there could have been no repeat of what had occurred in 1996 and 2004, with first phase group opponents meeting in the final; instead, there could be a possible semi-final encounter – which happened when Spain met Russia.
There was no extra-time tiebreaker at Euro 2008 as there had been in the previous three tournaments (golden goal 1996 and 2000, silver goal 2004). Instead things reverted to the good old-fashioned way of settling the issue, with the two periods of extra time being completed.
Both host nations were to be disappointed in the opening phase of the tournament. While the Swiss did actually manage to win their final game, they had by that point already been eliminated; the failure of the Austrians meanwhile lent support to the theory that their free ticket as hosts had been largely undeserved – they finished with a solitary point, and that courtesy of an injury-time equaliser against Poland.
The Euro 2008 tournament saw Germany return to the top tier of European football after what had been a shocking hiatus since their win in 1996; they reached the final itself, only to be felled by a Spanish side that was admittedly the best team over the twenty-three days. Seventy-seven goals were scored in the thirty-one matches played at an average of 2.48 goals per game – exactly the same as it had been in Portugal four years earlier.
Qualifying Campaign and pre-tournament build-up
The route to Austria and Switzerland was a straightforward affair for Jogi Löw’s side, though for some they did take things a little too easy after the hard work had been done. The Mannschaft went through their first nine games unbeaten, and by the time they had sunk to a somewhat lazy 3-0 home defeat by the Czech Republic qualification for the finals had already been assured.
The qualifying campaign saw Germany score thirty-five goals in their twelve games, which included a record-breaking 13-0 away win against minnows San Marino – the highest score in European Championship history, eclipsing Spain’s 12-1 controversial win against Malta in qualifying for Euro 1984. Seven men got on the scoresheet for Löw’s side in San Marino, with Lukas Podolski becoming only the second German to score four goals in a European Championship match since Gerd Müller against Albania forty years previously.
The friendly fixtures leading up to the tournament finals gave the Nationaltrainer a chance to test what had become a healthy and eager group of reserves – a far cry from the situation in both 2000 and 2004 where reserve backup had been thin on the ground. The first two matches of 2008 in February and March were against the two tournament hosts, Austria and Switzerland; the results were emphatic, with the Austrians beaten 3-0 in Vienna and the Swiss summarily dispatched by four goals in Basel.
During the final run-in in late May and early June things were a little tougher; an early 2-0 lead was blown against Belarus which saw the opposition claw their way back into the game to claim a 2-2 draw, and a tough 2-1 win was earned against Serbia with both goals scored in the final quarter of the game.
Germany’s Tournament in brief
The Mannschaft came into the Euro 2008 tournament having not won a final European Championship tournament match since 1996, when they defeated the Czech Republic at Wembley to win the trophy. During this period, they had played six group phase games, drawing three and losing three. As Joachim Löw’s much-improved side lined up at Klagenfurt’s Wörtherseestadion for their opening fixture against Poland, hopes were high of finally bringing this twelve-year drought to an end.
The memories of Rotterdam and Lisbon were finally exorcised as Lukas Podolski scored twice against the land of his birth to secure a well-deserved 2-0 win for the Mannschaft; it was a clinical performance that was not matched in the second game against bogey side Croatia, which saw Germany slip to a 2-1 defeat with Bastian Schweinsteiger sent off after yet another Croatian shot-in-the-face display, this time from Jerko Leko. The third game saw Löw’s side need a draw against hosts Austria to progress, and things were settled by a 49th-minute Ballack belter in a match that looked closer than it actually was. The one downside was that while all eleven men had managed to stay on their field, this time it was the Nationaltrainer who found himself banished to the stands after a touchline discussion with counterpart Josef Hickersberger had got slightly out of hand.
The quarter-final saw a fixture against the much-fancied Portuguese, and an exciting encounter where Germany flew into an emphatic 2-0 lead before maintaining their composure to close out the game at 3-2. This same scoreline was repeated in the semi-final against comeback kings Turkey who levelled the scores with four minutes left on the clock – only to be out-trumped by a stunning last-minute winner from Phillipp Lahm.
With Germany having scored ten goals in their five games and final opponents Spain eleven (including seven in their two games against Russia), all seemed set for an exciting final. In the end, the evening in Vienna turned out to be something of a damp squib; after an encouraging opening spell from the Mannschaft, Fernando Torres broke through the defensive line to put the Spaniards ahead after thirty-three minutes – and that was effectively that as they then closed things down and strangled the remaining life out of the game. After the disastrous campaigns of 2000 and 2004, Germany’s performance at Euro 2008 was more than a step in the right direction.
v Poland, First Phase Group B, Klagenfurt, 08.06.2008 View Report »
v Croatia, First Phase Group B, Klagenfurt, 12.06.2008 View Report »
v Austria, First Phase Group B, Wien, 16.06.2008 View Report »
v Portugal, Quarter-Final, Basel, 19.06.2008 View Report »
v Turkey, Semi-Final, Basel, 25.06.2008 View Report »
v Spain, European Championship Final, Wien, 29.06.2008 View Report »