Spain – European Champions
Spain, then, are the European champions and, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s difficult to argue a case against them winning it. Euro 2008, however, was just like that in many respects. How many times did you sit down in front of the television and think, “Well, they’re definitely going to win it”? At least three or four, I’d bet. Before we get going with what actually happened in Vienna last night, it’s time to dispel a quick myth about Spain’s Euro 2008 win before it starts to get out of hand. Euro 2008 was not, by extension, a victory of Liverpool Football Club. The Spain team that started last night contained one Liverpool player – Fernando Torres – and a further one – Alonso – who got on the pitch as a substitute. This has been the pattern throughout the tournament, but Liverpool supporters are suffering from some extreme delusions of grandeur if they think that last night was about them. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Villareal all fielded more players in the Spanish team that kicked off last night than Liverpool did.
The match itself was intriguing rather than exciting – a chess match, rather than a 100m sprint. Indeed, the best chance of the opening twenty minutes came with Andres Iniesta’s low cross that was deflected goalwards by Christoph Metzelder, forcing an outstanding save from the suddenly vastly improved Jens Lehmann. Midway through the first half, Spain came even closer, with Torres inexplicably out-jumping the massive German defender Per Mertesacker and and heading the ball past Lehmann and against the base of the post. Spain were getting closer and closer, and one began the suspect that a goal for Spain had a veneer of inevitability about it. When it came, it was a goal that was worthy of such an occasion. Xavi’s deep pass caused a moment of uncertainty for Germany’s left back, Phillip Lahm, allowing Fernando Torres to come in from a seemingly impossible and flick the ball past Lehmann and into the empty net. Torres’ persistance was such that one couldn’t even really fault Lahm for taking his eye of the ball for the one-hundredth of a second that he did. It was a tough break for the German left-back, who had been one of their best players of the tournament up until that point – he was substituted at half-time, a decision which seemed to rob Germany of one of their more effective attacking options.
Into the second half, and with Michael Ballack looking like a bad drag act Amy Winehouse impersonator after requiring medical attention to a head injury that could quite easily have seen him replaced, and Spain continued to dominate, with Xavi shooting narrowly wide from the end of the penalty area and Sergio Ramos trying to flick Silva’s driven cross in with his heel. It continued to look more likely that Spain would score a second goal than that Germany would pull the scores level, although Michael Ballack did at least show some sighs of resistance in shooting a foot wide of the penalty area. In the closing stages, Spain again started look like extending their lead. The best chance fell to Sergio Ramos, who sprang a feeble German offside trap but found his header well saved by Lehmann, but the follow-up was just as close, with the resulting corner ending with Torsten Frings clearing Iniesta’s driven shot off the line. With all the cliches that follow them around, the watching audience could have been forgiving for expecting the inevitable German equaliser, but the goal didn’t come. Indeed, with ten minutes to play, Guiza heaed across the face of goal and Senna slid in but was unable to apply a finishing touch and the ball drifted harmlessly away.
Spain, then, are worthy champions. The defensive concerns that might have blighted their chances never materialised, with Carlos Puyol and goalkeeper Iker Casillas playing outstandingly well. Spain conceded just two goals in their five matches. At the other end, their attacking play was frequently as breathtaking as anyone else in the tournament’s, with Torres and David Villa, whose unfortunate injury robbed him of a place in the final, showing time and time again that they are truly world class players. Also, one can’t help but admire Luis Aragones, no matter what one’s opinion of him might be otherwise. Last night, against Germany of all people, he replaced Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas of all people, yet his team never seriously looked like conceding a goal. In the end, the difference last night might just have been the attacking players. Whereas Spain had brilliance up front, which was best demonstrated by the speed with which they moved the ball from deep midfield players and into attacking positions. Whilst the likes of Miroslaw Klose are good players, but Torres, Fabregas and Villa are, on the sort of form demonstrated over the last three weeks or so, outstanding players, and that, on the night, was enough.
Germany, who had not played especially well throughout the rest of the tournament (remember that 2-1 defeat by Croatia in the group stages?), were undone by Spain. They will be back, though it is heartening to see that the best team in the tournament was the eventual winner. Where Spain go from here is considerably more intriguing. They have managed to fall short of expectations for much of the last four and a half decades, but with the albatross like psychological baggage that comes with the nickname of “under-achievers” now lifted from around their necks, what are they capable of? Spain has never failed to produce excellent players, though they have consistently managed to find even more strange and interesting ways to lose than even England have. Now, however, England are alone amongst the countries that they would like to consider their peers in having won nothing whatsoever in the last four decades, and they don’t look like changing that record any time soon. Spain, however, deserve our congratulations – they’re worthy champions of Europe. Don’t start getting them confused with Liverpool, though.