Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Euro 2008 Final: Spain 1-0 Germany

I wanted to get this post up sooner, but I've been blog-less for the past few days as a result of a beer-filled long weekend out of town. I did watch the final on Sunday, though, and although I was cheering for Germany, I can't say I'm disappointed that Spain won -- they were the best team both over the course of the tournament and in the final itself.

Germany started the stronger team in this game, with Miroslav Klose spurning a good chance to score as early as the third minute. They looked particularly dangerous as they attacked Sergio Ramos down Spain's right wing. But Spain were on top soon enough, with Jens Lehmann called on to make a great save in the 14th minute when Christoph Metzelder and his awful playoff beard almost deflected Andres Iniesta's shot into the net for an own-goal.

In the absence of injured Golden Boot winner David Villa, Fernando Torres was playing as a lone striker -- a familiar role from his time at Liverpool -- and causing lots of trouble for the lumbering German defence. He'd already sent a header off the post with Jens Lehmann well beaten, when he scored the game's only goal in the 32nd minute. Xavi's through ball split the defenders, Torres outmuscled Philipp Lahm and then, with Lehmann coming out to claim the ball, clipped it perfectly over the keeper and into the net.

If Torres was the pivotal figure for Spain, so too was Michael Ballack for Germany. Ballack has had horrible luck in major finals, and it didn't get any better for him here. He was already hampered by a calf injury -- although I think you'd have had to chain him down to stop him playing -- and then he got a cut over the eye toward the end of the first half, after a collision with Marcos Senna.

I think that just added to his sense of frustration, because a few minutes later he got booked for an altercation with Carles Puyol, and he seemed to spend the second half getting increasingly pissed off at the entire world. He did have a couple decent shots on goal over the course of the game -- one deflected by Ramos, another one going just barely wide -- but mostly he was cro-magnon-ing around and fouling people.

And with Ballack not at 100%, the rest of the team was also malfunctioning. Philipp Lahm was hauled off at halftime and replaced by Marcell Jansen -- supposedly due to injury, but come on. (Poor Lahm -- I swear I remember him being a good defender; I don't know what went wrong.) Klose got kicked in the balls early in the second half. And then later in the game had the indignity of being replaced by Mario Gomez. It just wasn't a good day for them, really.

Germany did have a good spell of pressure partway through the second half, but Iker Casillas and his defence held firm. Luis Aragones sent on Xabi Alonso for Cesc Fabregas -- who'd been much less effective than in the semi-final -- to shore up the midfield, and shortly thereafter brought on more fresh legs in the form of Santi Cazorla -- to replace David Silva, who'd come dangerously close to getting sent off after going nose-to-nose with Lukas Podolski. (I think Silva must have been on his tippy-toes at the time.)

There was a chance that things could've gotten out of hand, with the Germans trying to muscle their way back into the game, but the referee did a good job of calming things down -- although I still don't understand why he'd booked Casillas in the first half. Anyway, Spain reasserted themselves, passing their way through Germany as they'd been doing all game. Lehmann had to make another good save from Ramos' diving header in the 66th minute, and then from the corner, Iniesta's shot was cleared off the line by Torsten Frings.

The clock ticked inexorably down, and Germany had still only managed one shot on goal all game. Spain, meanwhile, continued to threaten, with Dani Guiza coming on for Fernando Torres -- who'd worked his ass off -- and almost immediately setting up Senna for what should have been their second goal. Spain might have liked to pad their one-goal lead, as there was always a chance that Germany could surprise them with an equalizer, but the Germans were mostly just lumping the ball forward in the late stages of the game, and Spain were always able to regain possession.

And so it finished 1-0 -- albeit a pretty action-packed one-goal game -- with Spain becoming European champions for only the second time. They'd already overcome their reputation as chokers with that penalty shootout victory over Italy, but they've now killed it off completely with such a comprehensive win. As for Germany, I said before the game that they had been more than the sum of their parts, but they showed their limitations here against a Spanish team that was undoubtedly superior.

I'm not going to pick a team of the tournament, because I'd probably end up like the TSN/Sportsnet crew, who went with an unorthodox sort of 2-5-3 formation. But a few awards to round things up...

Game of the tournament: Turkey 3-2 Czech Republic
It's hard to narrow this down, because there were so many great games, and Turkey in particular were involved in several incredible results. But this was the epitome of their tournament: a comeback from 2-0 down with 15 minutes to go that was highlighted by brain farts on the part of both goalkeepers, with Petr Cech dropping a cross to gift Turkey an equalizer in the 87th minute, and then Volkan Demirel getting sent off in stoppage time for flattening Jan Koller -- no mean feat.

Runner-up: Russia 3-0 Holland
Holland had disposed of Italy and France with ease in the supposed group of death, but an Andriy Arshavin-inspired Russia were brilliant in the quarterfinal and essentially beat them at their own whirlwind attacking game.

Goal of the tournament: Wesley Sneijder vs. Italy
A textbook-perfect counter-attacking move, with Gio van Bronckhorst clearing the ball off the line at a corner, and then pelting downfield to get involved again with a crossfield pass to Dirk Kuyt. Kuyt then headed the ball down for Sneijder to hook it past Gigi Buffon from an almost impossible angle. A fantastic team goal and a fantastic finish from Sneijder.

Runner-up: Bastian Schweinsteiger vs. Turkey
Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski sometimes seem to have a telepathic connection -- see also Schweinsteiger's goal against Portugal in the preceding game; here, Podolski broke down the left and crossed to Schweinsteiger coming in from the other flank, who flicked the ball brilliantly across the keeper with the outside of his right boot.

Player of the tournament: Marcos Senna
UEFA's technical panel may disagree with me -- they gave the Golden Ball to another Spanish midfielder, Xavi. But Xavi had periods where he was brilliant and periods where he was invisible. Senna was also often invisible, but for the right reasons: you want your defensive midfielder to go unnoticed, because that means he's doing his job. He was the solid base for Spain's tiki-taka attacking play, and a shield for their not always convincing defence. Consistently good throughout the tournament.

Hotass of the tournament: Iker Casillas
Captained his team to the title. Possibly the only keeper in Swisstria who actually knew how to deal with crosses. A big part of the reason why Spain gave up only three goals, and none of those in the knockout rounds. Went mano-a-mano with world champion Gianluigi Buffon in a penalty shootout and emerged victorious. And celebrated winning the whole shebang by stripping down and spraying his teammates with champagne. Well done.

1 comment:

toonhut said...

Hi Jen,

I am absolutely amazed by your coverage of the Euro 2008!! It is so (eerily) similar to my thoughts on countless events and actions that took place there.

Let's see:

I knew I was going to be sad and happy sunday night because I've been a longtime German supporter but I also liked the conduct, vibe, and play of some Spanish supporters so I really did not want them to be runner's-up either (I hate the word 'lose' which too many people use here). Instead of watching with despair, it was better to be happy for whoever won and find reasons to be glad for them. My consolation: 44 years is a long wait and it's really not certain if the current batch of Spanish players will get the glorious moment again, so let Iker and gang have fun.

You're the first person to note Iker's sartorial skills. Initially I thought his undershirt was extra long. When he lifts the trophy I was sure he was up to something -- even his sleeves were uneven as was his jersey. So I googled 'does Iker tear his jersey' and yours was among the first result that popped up and I discovered your blog :-) I did not know you were allowed to 'customize' the team uniform like that. Looks cute anyway. But I don't know if he cuts each new jersey in the locker room, won't he get his same nipped one back from the cleaners.

The Bad Hair Day awards are hilarious and couldn't be more spot-on. Ronaldo, Rustu, Sergio Garcia, Toni :))

Couldn't see Ronaldo cry... ha ha. I have a muted resentment for Portugal and Italy since FIFA 2006 by Portugal 's improper play against England and when Grosso got a penalty kick from what seemed to be a dive that led to the decisive goal which made them advance to the final with France . I know it's silly to carry something this long but all I daftly like to see in football is for minimum fair play.

Narrator here also said "Arnie". He is one of those underrated yet determined silent pillars of a team... I'd like to think so anyway. He looks relatively better with his current less-shaved appearance.
Stepped on Ronaldo's hand for good measure . His yellow for that was worth it then.

I could not understand why they would play that Eighth grade-like trumpet band claptrap when there is a goal. I would think their collective minds would come up with something less farcical.

Scolari did comment later that his team did not mark the German players they intended to on the pitch which led to their exit. In replays I could see Ballack did not really push for that third goal.

I was startled to see Klasnic burried alive under his team flat on the turf for some excruciating 4+ seconds! It was the only time in these games I saw a goal scorer's face disgruntled after a group hug/pounce.

Yes, Lehman did gnaw at the ball when against Croatia .

Some of the huge upsets for me was the way Croatia succumbed to Turkey in a single minute. Billic and his players were pretty distraught. Second was how Petr Cech got this blemish on his defending record by the two goals Turkey scored.

It's super of you to declare your support for two clubs. It is a big taboo to state allegiance to two clubs, and god forbid three! It's not as scary to cheer for more than one country. I keep switching between which English club I like, but I have a permanent soft spot for Liverpool because of their strong will, force, fair play, and a good captan like Gerrard

I made a Word file (somehow easier to keep in one place for me) with a bunch of pictures, each trying to tell a story, from the last World Cup. It is kind of inane and bit biased for Germany but it reminds me of good times.

It’s too bad I did not know about your blog before as I could have read each match's take that day but revisiting all the games like this is equally good; and more important, instantly gratifying.
Most of your prediction came out right. You have a very good eye for details.

See you (on the blog)