Ernst-Happel-Stadion, Wien, 29.06.2008
– / Torres 33.
Germany’s last-minute winner against Turkey would take them to a record sixth European Championship final, where they would play Spain who had made their first tournament showpiece since 1984 when they finished runners-up to hosts France. While Jogi Löw’s side had to fight hard to make to the final showpiece in Vienna, the Spaniards had come to the boil nicely in dispatching a good Russian side 3-0. On form alone, Luis Aragonés’ side would be slight favourites.
The two teams had met five times in the final stages of major tournaments, with the Germans winning three times and the Spaniards once. There had been two previous first-phase encounters in the European Championships: in 1984 Spain had secured a dramatic last-minute 1-0 win in Paris that had helped eliminate Jupp Derwall’s side at the first hurdle, while four years later Franz Beckenbauer’s team had triumphed 2-0 in Munich. In addition to these three games the two teams had also met in 1976 – before the era of the eight-team final tournament – with the Nationalmannschaft winning 3-1 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw in Madrid and a 2-0 win in Munich.
Jogi Löw would keep the same side and 4-2-3-1 formation that had beaten Turkey in Basel, with just one change as the fit-again Torsten Frings returned to the starting lineup in place of Simon Rolfes. The team would be boosted further by the fact that skipper Michael Ballack had been passed fit after having been doubtful with a calf injury, as well as the fact that the Spaniards would have to do with without their leading scorer David Villa who had been forced to withdraw with a thigh strain.
Despite the fact that the two host countries had long since been eliminated, the atmosphere in Vienna’s Ernst-Happel-Stadion was electric, with large number of German supporters having made their way across the border to be among the 51,428 crowd. Germany would be in their familiar black and white Trikot and the Spaniards in their equally famous red and blue, and at a quarter to nine on what was a very pleasant Viennese evening Italian referee Roberto Rosetti would get things under way with the Spaniards kicking off.
After a slightly scrappy opening few minutes Joachim Löw’s side would start positively, and with less then five minutes played would be handed the first half-chance to open the scoring. Miroslav Klose would seize upon a loose pass from Sergio Ramos and hare towards the Spanish goal, but a couple of poor touches would let him down with the ball rolling off harmlessly for a goal kick.
The first real moment of danger for the Mannschaft would come with just under fifteen minutes on the clock, when Lehmann would make a fine reflex save after Christoph Metzelder had turned a cross from Andrés Iniesta towards his own goal. There would be a few slight wobbles for the German defence, but as the game passed the twenty minute mark things would be looking far more stable than they had been in the semi-final against Turkey.
The slow-boiling Spanish side would quickly up the ante however, and they would soon start to work the ball around nicely and exploit the holes in the German defence. Lehmann would be saved by the post after Fernando Torres had beaten Per Mertesacker in the air to send in a firm header, and the red-shirted Spaniards would soon start to smell German blood. Torres in particular would prove to be a handful, with Mertesacker in particular being seriously stretched.
With just over thirty minutes played Spain would be playing their frustrating tiki-taka game, passing the ball around in their own half until they would choose that moment to strike. A ball inside from Joan Capdevila would find Marcos Senna, who would thread the ball through to Xavi. It would set up a moment of genius from the Barcelona playmaker, whose well-timed first-time pass would find the advancing Torres.
The Liverpool striker still had plenty of work to do, but would charge past a curiously lackadaisical Philipp Lahm before dinking the ball delightfully over the Lehmann and into the bottom right hand corner of the net as the German ‘keeper made a futile attempt to close down the space. It was a great goal and an exquisite finish, but Lahm would have been kicking himself for allowing is opponent to muscle past him as if he wasn’t there.
Fernando Torres outpaces Philipp Lahm and dinks the ball over Jens Lehmann to give Spain the lead. It would prove to be enough
Spain were on fire now, and David Silva cold very easily have doubled their lead just moment later. Completely in the clear, Valencia man would blast the ball high into the crowd with the goal at his mercy.
A silly war of words between skippers Michael Ballack and Iker Casillas would result in both being booked by Signor Rosetti, and with Spain now starting to toy with the Mannschaft half time could not come soon enough for Joachim Löw’s side.
Philipp Lahm had made up for his defensive lapse in the semi-final by scoring the last-minute winner, but he would not get a similar opportunity in Vienna. As the teams walked on to start the second half, the FC Bayern München left-back would be taken off and replaced by Marcell Jansen.
Spain would pick up where they had left off in the first half, and the Germans would find it increasingly difficult to develop their game against a team brimming with confidence and a touch of what might have been described as Teutonic arrogance. Looking to inject more energy into his side, Löw would send on striker Kevin Kurányi for midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger a couple of minutes short of the hour mark. Michael Ballack would shoot narrowly wide, but that would be the best the Mannschaft could offer in a contest where they were slowly being suffocated.
A moment of bizarre drama would take place when Silva would aim a subtle head-butt at Lukas Podolski in an off the ball incident, but in spite of the mild protest from the German winger himself and a few waving arms from skipper Ballack the Italian referee would choose to let the matter rest. To his credit Podolski would not make too much of an issue of it, but one has to wonder what might have happened had he chosen to tale the more orthodox route and go down like a sack of potatoes. In fact, had it been someone else on the receiving end Germany might well have found themselves facing ten men for the final twenty-five minutes.
It’s handbags at close range as Lukas Podolski and David Silva square up
Aragonés would take immediate action in replacing the volatile Silva with Santi Cazorla, and almost immediately his side would create two excellent chances to put the game beyond all reasonable doubt. First Sergio Ramos would get on the end of the curling Xavi free-kick and force Lehmann into a fine reaction save, and from the resulting corner Inesta would strike the base of the left upright. The Mannschaft’s defensive line would once again be all over the place, and on any other night Spain would have long put the match to bed.
At the other Germany would win a free-kick out on the left in a dangerous position, but the delivery would be woefully underhit by Frings. Spain would create far more opportunities and Lehmann would be the busier of the two goalkeepers, but the German attack would fail to send even one half-decent ball into the Spanish box. The set pieces in particular were woeful, with everything either under- or overhit.
As the game entered headed towards the final ten minutes goalscorer Torres would be replaced by Dani Güiza for Spain, while Jogi Löw would take one final throw of the dice in replacing Klose with Gomez – hoping perhaps for the VfB Stuttgart striker to suddenly find his form and with it bring his side back into the contest.
If Löw might have been gearing his side up for a final assault, it would make little difference to the Spaniards, who continued to cut and thrust at the dishevelled German defence. A slick move involving Senna and the two substitutes Cazorla and Güiza and would see the Brazilian-born defensive midfielder come close to getting finishing off the move, and for all Germany’s huffing and puffing they would be unable to keep the ball, let alone create a opportunity to take the game into extra time. Kurányi would find himself in the referee’s notebook for a clumsy challenge on the excellent Senna, and Spain would calmly see themselves through to the final whistle.
It’s another silver medal for Michael Ballack, in what would turn out to be his last tournament finals match
Germany had started their seventh European Championship final looking for a fourth title, but in the end it is fair to say that they just failed to show up. Whether this had been down to tactics, stage fright or facing opponents that were simply superior in every department, they would never really be in with a chance. After all of the excitement generated by their run to the final, it would be a hugely disappointing final chapter.
The final scoreline would arguably flatter the Mannschaft, and Spain would be deserving winners.
Germany: Lehmann – Friedrich, Mertesacker, Metzelder, Lahm (46. Jansen) – Frings, Hitzlsperger (58. Kurányi) – Schweinsteiger, Ballack (c), Podolski – Klose (79. Gómez)
Spain: Casillas – Sergio Ramos, Marchena, Puyol, Capdevila – Senna – Silva (66. Cazorla), Fàbregas (63. Xabi Alonso), Xavi, Iniesta – Torres (78. Güiza)
Referee: Roberto Rosetti (Italy)
Assistants: Alessandro Griselli (Italy), Paolo Calcagno (Italy)
Fourth Official: Peter Fröjdfeldt (Sweden)
Yellow Cards: Ballack, Kurányi / Casillas, Torres
Red Cards: – / –