Spain captain Iker Casillas raises aloft the Henri Delaunay trophy (top) before his team-mates join in the fun under a shower of ticker-tape (above).
VIENNA — A goal by Fernando Torres ensured Spain became European Champions for the second time in their history tonight, defeating Germany 1-0 in the final of Euro 2008 at Vienna’s Ernst Happel Stadium. It’s Spain’s first title since they won the European Championship back in 1964 in Madrid; as goalkeeper captain Iker Casillas raised aloft the Henri Delaunay trophy into the Austrian evening, he must have hoped this victory will perhaps lay to rest Spain’s unwanted tag of perennial underachievers which has plagued its national side ever since. It is certainly a greater achievement than Greece’s entirely unexpected win four years ago, in that the pressure on the Spaniards to go far in becomes is greater with each passing tournament. The title of Spain’s official Euro 2008 song roughly translates as, “Let’s Get Beyond The Quarter-Finals”, revealing an element of self-deprecating humour not always evident in much of Spain’s sporting media.
A nervous royal couple King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia (suitably dressed in all-red) stand for the national anthem.
History was definitely against Spain before the match, as they faced Germany, a nation which knows better than any other what it takes to get to a tournament final and win it. Germany’s captain, Michael Ballack, instrumental in his side’s run to the final, had partly recovered from a calf strain and was passed fit to at least start the match. Spain were without their top scorer, David Villa, who had been injured in the semi-final. Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas — who as a substitute had transformed the game with Russia — came in to the side. Although they would inevitably miss Villa’s trickery, I sensed his misfortune might prove a blessing in disguise. Fabregas’ inclusion meant Spain would play with a lone striker — the powerful Fernando Torres — with Fabregas sitting behind in a playmaking role. I felt this move could work to their advantage in a tight final against the robust Germans.
Spain’s starting eleven (without David Villa) line-up before the final.
Spain appeared nervous in the opening moments, and Sergio Ramos was nearly punished after gifting possession to Miroslav Klose in his own half. But once the game settled Spain began to assert themselves. Lehmann pulled off a fine one-handed save from his own defender, as Xavi Hernandez’ cross pinged off Christoph Metzelder. The German goalkeeper was nowhere to be seen minutes later as Torres climbed high to reach Fabregas’ cross and direct his header onto the foot of the post. Germany’s defence was struggling to cope with Torres, whose strength and pace led to the opening goal. The Liverpool striker latched onto a through-ball from Xavi, and somehow muscled his way around Philip Lahm to lift the ball over the onrushing Lehmann and into the net.
Fernando Torres leaps over Lehmann as the ball sails into the German net for the opening goal.
A Spanish lead would inevitably make the Germans come out and play, and my feeling was almost that the goal had arrived too early for Spain, allowing Germany a whole hour to get back into the match. It was imperative for Spain to arrive at half-time ahead: an equalizing goal before the break would have shattered Spanish exuberance and restored Germany’s infinite self-belief. But barring a Ballack volley which Sergio Ramos skillfully blocked, Germany had offered little threat as the sides walked back to the dressing rooms. On the basis of enterprise and chances, Spain were deservedly in front, although Germany felt unfortunate when Roberto Rosetti failed to award them a penalty after Marchena had controlled the ball with his hand in the area. The Italian referee instead showed a yellow card to an agitated Ballack, who at one point had to leave the field to receive stitches for a cut above the eye.
Germany captain Michael Ballack approaches a linesman to protest a decision.
The second half began as expected. Spain relented allowing Germany to apply increasing pressure to their defence, and though Ballack miscued a shot into the side netting, it seemed a German goal was not far in coming. The longer the game remained at 1-0, the more likely I imagined the Germans to claw their way back, as they have in so many matches of this kind. Between 1966 and 1996 the German national team reached ten international finals, winning half of them. Only in the last ten years has its machine-like dominance of international competition grinded to a halt, and even in that period they reached another World Cup Final. But somehow Spain were determined to defy history and stereotype, and came closer themselves to adding a second goal. An unmarked Sergio Ramos saw his diving header saved by Lehmann, and then the industrious Brazilian-born Marcos Senna — one of the tournament’s revelations in Spain’s midfield — started a move which very nearly ended in his own personal triumph.
Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas punches clear from a rare German attack.
In the remaining minutes, Spain’s aging coach Luis Aragonés removed Fabregas and the plucky David Silva, plugging the midfield with the more workman-like styles of Güiza and Xabi Alonso. Germany’s Joachim Löw threw on his reserve forwards, the ineffective Mario Gomez and another nationalized Brazilian, Kevin Kuranyi, in an attempt to cause Spain problems at the back. But together they combined nothing, and Casillas was left with little to do for much of the second half. Oddly, the final five minutes were Spain’s most comfortable of the match, and Los Rojos seemed the more likely to score in the dying stages.
A dejected Bastian Schweinsteiger lies exhausted after the final whistle.
After so many years of never quite living up to expectations, I think few people would begrudge Spain their moment of glory. They have proved to be the most consistent side at Euro 2008, winning all six matches and outlasting early favourites Holland and Portugal. Much like Italy’s World Cup victory in Germany two years ago, Spain’s success is certainly a triumph of collective team spirit and tactical maturity. And like Marcello Lippi’s Italy in 2006, Aragonés’ Spain did not have the luxury of a Maradona or even a Zidane in their squad, that one player they look to to pull the side through the tournament. Even UEFA president Michel Platini — the last player whose class and goals dominated a European Championship in 1984 — must have recognized that these days no tournament can be won single-handedly. But to win a final it sometimes only takes one individual to produce a very special moment: tonight it belonged to El Niño.
Fernando Torres celebrates Spain’s remarkable triumph: the 24 year-old saved his only goal of the tournament for the final.