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Article:Spain 1 - 0 Germany Euro 2008 Final

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Viva Espana! This was an interesting game, but first of all - hooray for the Germans not winning (I say this as an Englishman) and I JUST HOPE FOOTBALL IS ALWAYS THE WINNER.

The game started with the Germans well on top for about 10 minutes, which was odd, but then I noticed a tactical thing that I think explains it - whichever German wide midfielder was on Iniesta's side was coming right inside as an extra CM, leaving the full back to take the outside. And it was clever, because Iniesta comes inside a lot and doesn't want to stick wide and pin back his full-back, so Lahm, initially, got a lot of joy down that flank in combination with Podolski. After ten minutes Aragones switched Iniesta and Silva (who can play properly wide), so that although the Germans did the same thing, it was now happening on the side where Friedrich was the attacking full-back and not Lahm, and that reduced the danger significantly. It was a clever innovation by Loew, though, because Schweinsteiger playing in really narrow meant that Germany had the midfield completely flooded and even the Spanish centre-mids couldn't get going in that traffic. Germany also did well as a result of something that was a feature of the game as a whole, which was Spain not closing down particularly well. Fabregas did it, and Senna did it diligently and cleverly (often nicking the ball when he'd read a pass), but Xavi only comes alive when his side's in possession, and Silva and Iniesta are no great shakes either. It was not impressive (and it mattered again in the second half).

The first two set-pieces Spain got were interesting too - neither was slung into the box in orthodox fashion, and that was somnething they continued, often looking for short corners or different angles because of their height disadvantage (only Ramos and Torres are really worth aiming for).

So after Aragones' switch Spain settled a bit, and on 33 minutes Fabregas found Torres with a lovely slid ball into his feet, and though Torres' first touch wasn't great, he managed to beat Lahm in about 6/7 yards and clip the ball over Lehmann as he went down. It was a fantastic bit of play from the Liveprool man - power, pace, balance and precision - and it made a goal out of something that wasn't even really a chance (it certainly wasn't in the moment when Lahm was between him and the ball and Lehmann was advancing). Lahm again showed that he can't be trusted one-on-one with anyone with a bit of strength or pace. He's a weird player, because defensively he's a below-average international full-back, but going forward he's exceptionally good, and is an awesome finisher.

And then for the rest of the first half it was how I thought it'd be if Spain went ahead - they were fluent and kept the ball, and when the Germans pressed them they broke into the space it left. The Germans were doing a fair amount of cynical clipping of heels and bodychecking, and Ballack especially got churlish as soon as they went behind. Spain could easily have added to their score, and Iniesta on two occasions got the ball in great positions inside the box, but both times he came back inside on his right and wasted it. Obviously Spain won this tournament, but I still think they'd have been better off with a proper wide player instead of his (sometimes classy, sometimes erratic) bits-n-pieces stuff. If you put Robben or Ronaldo in this side opposite Silva they'd have shredded everybody (and I'd love to know what happened to Joaquin, because I thought he was the best player in the tournament in the 2002 W-Cup).

The start of the second half saw Lahm withdrawn, presumably through injury, and Spain setting up really deep and defensive, which was fine in that Germany don't really have enough to break that down, but not very ballsy as a way of playing. I would have liked to see them come out and properly dominate the final, passing the Germans to death and adding more goals, but Aragones settled for sitting and hoping to get Torres in against the slower German centre-backs on the break (which worked a couple of times). That Spanish midifeld didn't press well enough, and didn't get tight when other players were pressing, and coming up to the hour mark they had a real wobble for about ten minutes as the Germans got some reasonable possession and made half-chances. Fabregas was withdrawn for Xabi (to stiffen the midfield up,which worked okay but again was conservative), and Silva was taken off for Santi Cazorla (who did a decent tricky, mobile job), and eventually Guiza came on for Torres (who was looking tired). The Germans basically put on a load of 80s-English-style big lumps up front, with Gomes and Kuranyi arriving, but they didn't really lump it forward that much (when they did just go long ball the Spanish didn't look comfortable). All throughout the half Spain still threatened on the break, and they worked the ball into the area often, the best chance coming when Senna (who I like a lot - he's tidy and unselfish, he works hard, his passing is terrific and for Villareal I've seen him have some great games in Europe) went bombing on and nearly reached a clever Guiza knockdown in front of an open goal. Ramos also had a good headed chance form a rare crossed-in free-kick. But overall I was surprised how willing they were to get the ball forward quickly, because I was expecting the old matador stuff where they pass the opposition to death; they did it towards the end of the first half and Barca are always doing it.

Anyway, the whistle went and Spain won it, and I'm pleased for Torres and Fabregas and Senna and Xabi and Puyol. They're not an amazing side in the context of historical tournament winners, but in a mediocre championship they deserved it as much as anyone, and they've played good football, and demonstrated the value of having good strikers.


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