This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE
A brilliantly placed Fernando Torres strike in the first part of the final against Germany was more than enough for Spain to be crowned European champions. Luis Aragonés led a youthful yet extremely talented team to La Roja’s first major trophy since 1964, thus ending a 44-year silverware drought.
Germany couldn’t halt their rivals’ unbeaten run as Spain took the tournament by storm, conceding a mere three goals, netting an average of two times per game and keeping clean sheets in each of their knockout ties.
As such, Joachim Löw gave Michael Ballack the nod to start despite not being fully fit, as a right-calf injury prevented him from participating in the team’s last training session. The introduction of their leader into the starting line-up was a great boost for Die Mannschaft following his winner against Austria in the group stage and his decider against Portugal in the quarter-finals.
Aragonés, on his part, switched to a five-man midfield as Spain’s top scorer in the tournament, David Villa, started on the bench due to a thigh injury. The Spanish tactician opted for numerical superiority in the midfield, but his plans didn’t come to fruition in the first minutes of the encounter as Germany pressed high, trying to break La Roja’s patient building from the back.
It was a nervy start from Spain, whose players uncharacteristically ceded possession various times in their own half during the first quarter. A Sergio Ramos misplaced pass three minutes into the game gave Germany the chance to threaten the opposition but Miroslav Klose couldn’t get past Carles Puyol and the ball went out of play.
Mainly attacking from the left-hand side, the Germans put more pressure on the Real Madrid right-back. A beautifully weighted Klose cut-back reached Thomas Hitzlsperger on the edge of the area, but he couldn’t guide the ball past Iker Casillas.
This half-chance served as a wake-up call for La Roja and when a Xavi ball sliced through the Germany defence, Andrés Iniesta received it inside the box. The Barcelona midfielder’s intended cross was deflected by Christoph Metzelder, who changed the direction of the ball towards the goal, but Jens Lehmann came to his team’s rescue with an instinctive save.
Aragonés’ men started growing in the game, steadily gaining momentum. Although Germany dominated possession until that point, it was all Spain from then on.
Torres, who had struggled in the first few minutes but gradually worked his way into the match, rose over Per Mertesacker after a precise Ramos cross, but his header crashed against the post. It was a warning shot that unsettled the Germans who were struggling to bring the ball out from the back.
Spain piled on the pressure and 33 minutes in, Xavi played a through ball for Torres who ghosted between Philipp Lahm and Metzelder. With brawn to match his poise, the Liverpool striker outmuscled Lahm and deftly clipped the ball over the advancing Lehmann and inside the far post to net just his second goal in the tournament.
Spain headed into the break with the lead and Löw decided to replace Lahm with Marcell Jansen at half-time. Germany started the second half brighter, but couldn’t manage a breakthrough. Spain were not slow to react and get back in control of the game.
Eight minutes into the second half, a Torres cut-back found Xavi who couldn’t beat Lehmann from outside the box. Löw made his second substitute before the hour mark, withdrawing Hitzlsperger for Kevin Kurányi, as he sought an extra body in attack.
The clock was indicating the 59th minute when Germany produced their best chance in the game with Ballack’s effort from outside the box going just wide. Aragonés responded immediately by sending in Xabi Alonso for Cesc Fàbregas and Santi Cazorla for David Silva.
Spain pushed for a second goal to put the game to bed but neither Ramos nor Iniesta managed to force the ball past Lehmann with their respective headers. With Torres running out of fuel, Dani Güiza came off the bench, while Löw replaced Klose with Mario Gómez in his final attempt to freshen up his team’s attack.
Germany searched for the elusive equaliser until the very last minute, but they couldn’t create any real threat in front of Casillas’ goal. Spain looked particularly comfortable on the pitch, absorbing the pressure and circulating the ball flawlessly among chants of “olé, olé, olé” from the stands.
When referee Roberto Rosetti blew the final whistle, it triggered celebrations across the Iberian country that only intensified upon captain Casillas hoisting the trophy into the sky. Spain outclassed all their rivals throughout the tournament and outplayed Germany in the final to deservedly crown themselves kings of Europe for the second time in their history.
By Panos Kostopoulos @PanosK88