Spain wins Euro 2008

          

From The Times June 30, 2008

Viennese waltz for Spain as Torres goal wins Euro 2008

Germany 0 Spain 1

Fernando Torres celebrates after opening the scoring.

Ghosts were laid to rest in Vienna last night. The ghosts of men in red shirts, with the pain of failure in their eyes, who have come to competitions such as this in expectation for many years and left reduced and ridiculed.

The waiting is over. Spain are the champions of Europe, 44 years after their previous victory, on home soil, in a fledgeling competition, played only as a knockout. This was different. This was a big one. The modern European Championship is arguably the most difficult prize to secure, so great is the concentration of talent, and as a vivid crimson knot of players bounced up and down in front of supporters who had known only disappointment on their travels around Europe, it was as if four decades of suffering were being released high into the night sky above the Ernst Happel Stadion.

The best team won the match and the tournament. Spain outplayed Germany in the final, despite the slender nature of the scoreline, and although there were a number of strong teams here and a great many fine players, no group passed it quite like the champions. Now the psychological barrier has been broken, a world of possibilities opens up. We waited for the choke, but it never came and having at last found the winning mentality at a tournament, Spain’s sublime technique will make them the team to beat in South Africa in 2010.

The collective marshalled astutely by Luis Aragonés, the veteran coach, rose above considerable obstacles in this, their biggest test. Not only an injury to David Villa, the competition’s top scorer, but the spectre of their opponents, Germany, the team who always win on occasions such as this, according to folklore. Yet, from the moment Fernando Torres scored in the 33rd minute, the result was barely in doubt. Despite an excellent performance by Michael Ballack, who shed blood for Germany’s cause after a collision with Marcos Senna and always seemed to be at the centre of the action, whether in his team’s penalty area or that of Spain, the midfield constructed by Aragonés held sway.

Xavi Hernández, in particular, was in exquisite form, making a mockery of those who would have ditched him for Cesc Fàbregas. Indeed, Aragonés’s faith in the quartet of Andrés Iniesta, Senna, Xavi and David Silva has been thoroughly vindicated, just as his inclusion of Fàbregas for the injured Villa was a wise one. Spain ran the game, not with giants and enforcers, as is the modern trend, but with compact, nimble, intelligent thinkers. Is there a lesson in this for the rest of football? We can only hope so.

The names of goalscorers live longest in the memory, yet while Torres was the hero on the night, Spain’s was a shared victory, with champions all over the field. Remember when a young Iker Casillas was mocked by television sages such as Ron Atkinson when in goal for Real Madrid on Champions League nights? He has been the goalkeeper of the tournament these past weeks and, as captain, got to lift the trophy, too.

All of Spain’s defenders have been impeccable, in fact, as clean sheets in every match since the group phase ended indicate. Yet it is the midfield, perceptively identified by Fabio Capello, the England manager, as the best in Europe, that has been key to it all. And the fact that when Villa was cruelly denied his appearance in the final game by injury, Torres, his fellow forward, rose to the occasion and defined it with a goal.

A pass from Xavi set it up - superbly weighted, devilishly incisive - but Torres did the rest, helped by some catastrophically inattentive and rash Germany defending from which Joachim Löw’s team never recovered. Philipp Lahm, the left back, was the sleepy one when, running across to cover, he looked to be shepherding the ball to safety, only to be caught out by Torres’s determination at the crucial moment. Jens Lehmann, the goalkeeper, was unsurprisingly the hot-head, charging from goal to turn a drama into a crisis and going down at Torres’s feet, which succeeded only in making the striker’s mind up, as he chipped the ball gently over his grounded figure into the unguarded net.

Earlier, Torres, the Liverpool striker, had hit a post from a cross by Sergio Ramos and at moments such as that there is always the suspicion that another Germany victory of the spirit is about to take place. How many times have Germany players won at a tournament when it should not have been their year? This is not to decry their achievement, but how many great games have they even played here? The win over Portugal at the quarter-final stage, definitely, but beyond that? Yet this was their sixth European Championship final and they were defeated by a single goal; one can only admire them for it.

Perhaps what changed was that Spain unearthed an almost Teutonic mental resolve. They were not disheartened by missed opportunities – and an unmarked volley at the far post from Silva was a particularly savage howler – and continued to press back the Germans, taking full advantage of their lack of pace defensively with a series of witty, intricate passing moves.

Aragonés, contrarian that he is, continued to make substitutions in the second half that were a challenge to popular opinion. Off went Fàbregas, then Torres, yet as he has done throughout this tournament, Aragonés kept Spain’s tempo high with the injection of fresh blood and his team were as much a threat late in the game - when Santiago Cazorla and Daniel Güiza, the substitutes, combined to leave Senna an inch from converting the second - as they were at the start. Ramos had a diving header saved by Lehmann and Torsten Frings cleared a shot by Iniesta off the line. Germany, by contrast, created little of note and managed three shots, one on target, all game. Ballack was the best of it, just wide in the 59th minute.

Ultimately, the champions lived up to the ethos of a tournament that has been open, attack-minded and highly skilled. Spain took flight from the start by beating Russia 4-1 and were soaring at the moment of the last kick, destiny’s end. Nothing could hold them back, not even their fear of the ghosts.

Spain: Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol, Carlos Marchena, Joan Capdevila, Xavi Hernandez, David Silva, Marcos Senna, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres.

Germany: Jens Lehmann, Christoph Metzelder, Per Mertesacker, Philipp Lahm, Arne Friedrich, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Torsten Frings, Michael Ballack, Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose.

Germany 0 Spain 1: Fernando Torres, the Liverpool striker, scored to give Spain their first major triumph in 44 years.

Xavi, the Spain midfielder, has been named the player of Euro 2008 by Uefa.

How Spain rated

Average rating: 6.2

6 Iker Casillas

Behaved like a boxer on many occasions, punching the ball when a catch was possible. But generally safe and, as captain, exuded confidence. Booked after racing from goal to act as peacemaker when Ballack lost control. A tad unfair.

6 Sergio Ramos

Has been one of the most noticeable performers in Euro 2008 and not only because of his flowing locks. Comfortable in central defence but equally at home at right back. Although tall, can show speed on right flank when called on.

6 Carles Puyol

Shaggy haired central defender does not resemble a footballer. Perhaps he should have been at the Glastonbury Festival. A master of the perfectly timed tackle and had to perform many last night. Perfect foil for Marchena at the heart of defence.

6 Carlos Marchena

Not as recognisable as Puyol but still a force to be reckoned with. Always dangerous at set-pieces, but rarely had time to get forward in the later stages as Spain sank deeper and deeper. Coped comfortably with Klose.

5 Joan Capdevila

Not able to get forward as much as he wanted, but after Torres had struck a post, drove narrowly wide with Lehmann struggling. Defensively, dealt with most that Germany had to offer, especially in anxious opening stages.

7 Andrés Iniesta

Marvellous wizardry on the left flank, teasing and tormenting his markers with beguiling display, especially in the first half. Provided pass that Metzelder almost turned into own net. Provided another pass that Silva blazed over the bar.

8 Xavi Hernández

Able assistant for Fàbregas in midfield engine room and does a lot of the graft for his young partner. Wins the ball, gives it to Fàbregas: the plan is simple and effective. Sent speculative 30-yard attempt skidding wide in second half.

6 Marcos Senna

Every team needs a holding midfield player, tidying up the loose ends and doing the dirty work. He does it to the nth degree. Unheralded workhorse but a shrewd passer of the ball, too. Rarely seen too far forward, but who cares?

6 Cesc Fàbregas

Not as influential as he may have hoped. At least started the match after being used as an impact substitute during the tournament. Initially tried too many hopeful long passes; later, retreated deeper. Still, a persistent presence.

6 David Silva

Not one of the bigger names in squad but has a key role to play nonetheless. Lost his head – and direction – when he shot high and wide in first half. Went closer after interval but long-range effort fizzed past the far upright.

8 Fernando Torres

Magnificent. Did it time and again with Liverpool last season and did it time and again last night. Hit a post with a header, rising high above Mertesacker, then dinked the ball over Lehmann for 33rd-minute goal. No one could stop him.

Substitutes

Xabi Alonso (for Fàbregas, 63min) 5; Santiago Cozorla (for Silva, 66) 5; Daniel Güiza (for Torres, 78).

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