By JP Lonergan (Setanta Sports)
Spain are the European champions after a goal from Fernando Torres was enough to claim a 1-0 win over Germany in an entertaining final in Vienna, Austria, on Sunday evening – thus ending a 44-year trophy drought for the Iberians.
Torres dinked the ball over Jens Lehmann in the 33rd minute to break the deadlock at the Ernst Happel stadium, a goal that, in the end, proved enough for Luis Aragones’ men to exorcise the lingering ghosts of so many failed campaigns - and they were deserving winners.
The Spanish side, who have surely provided the best football in EURO 2008 that entertained from the off, walk away with the new Henry Delauney trophy after having much the better of an entertaining final that they won without the services of the tournament’s top scorer David Villa - injured at so cruel a stage of the competition.
Both sides started willing to attack, the Spaniards confident of their ability to take apart anyone, while the Germans knew that few teams do finals better than them and there were early signs that an entertaining evening was to follow.
With defending having taken secondary preference throughout this tournament, it was hardly a surprise when Sergio Ramos gifted Miroslav Klose a run on goal early on, but the Germany attacker’s first touch was poor and he failed to punish the Real Madrid man’s haphazard pass.
Spain looked to use their passing ability and pace to good effect with both Xavi and Cesc Fabregas – who was brought in for Villa – looking to pick out Torres with a couple of lengthy balls, while Andres Iniesta and David Silva switched wings to ensure the Germans would get an early runaround.
Thomas Hitzlsperger fired a low effort into the arms of Iker Casillas, as the Germans continued to punish Spain down the wing of Ramos, but the first big save would come from Lehmann.
The former Arsenal man did brilliantly to turn away an Iniesta effort that deflected goalward off Christophe Metzelder. Iniesta had been fed with a sublime through-ball by Barcelona teammate Xavi and switched on to his right foot before seeing the bearded defender get a touch he knew little about forcing heroics from his goalkeeper.
Metzelder then unceremoniously left Torres on his rear on the right byline, after which a Xavi free kick was headed over by the Liverpool man. Torres was getting closer and he headed against the post after rising above Per Mertesacker to connect with a Ramos cross after more good work from the energetic Fabregas out wide.
The German central defensive pairing were having some hairy moments, as Metzelder somehow sent the ball 30 yards towards his own goal,as he tried to collect a pass on the attack, his error resulting in Torres roasting Mertesacker before a winning a corner off the defender, whom he had been tormenting right from the start.
Fabregas let fly from 25 yards with a low effort that was easy for Lehmann, but his clean sheet was on borrowed time, as Spain finally got the reward for the dominance they had begun to ascertain.
Marcos Senna knocked the ball to the feet of Xavi and he quickly turned and played through Torres, who, with great determination, got around the outside of Philipp Lahm and dinked the ball over the onrushing Lehmann before watching it slide over the goalline.
With German skipper Michael Ballack being temporarily forced off with a cut to the head, Spain looked to quickly grab a second. However, Silva wasted a great chance in space when he aimed to connect with an Iniesta set-up first time from the right of the German area and succeeded only in fluffing it skyward.
Spain continued to fly forward as just before halftime Silva found Xavi, who fed Iniesta bombing forward on the left, but the midfield man took too long to deliver a final ball, winning only a corner that led to nothing. However, the combined threat of Iniesta, Xavi and Silva’s triangle of trickery, the excellent Fabregas and the in-form Torres was looking nothing if not potent, as the sides headed for the dressing rooms at the break.
Lahm did not emerge for the second half, with his Bayern Munich teammate Marcell Jansen introduced, but he failed to get close enough to Torres when he played a ball back to Xavi some seven minutes into the half. The Barca man’s shot from a few yards outside the German area was put behind by Lehmann, with the corner that followed falling to Silva and Ramos attempting to backheel his shot goalward with no success.
Torres then ran clear of Jansen minutes later, but this time, Lehmann beat him to the ball. Spain’s pressure continued, though, with Fabregas winning the ball back after a failed attack and getting it - via Silva - to Ramos, whose cross from the right had German hearts in mouths before flying to safety.
But Ballack reminded us yet again that the Germans cannot be recounted, firing just wide a minute later after Carles Puyol was dispossessed and then feeding Bastien Schweinsteiger, who aimed to pick out substitute Kevin Kuranyi, but his touch was poor.
Kuranyi – on for Hitzlsperger – was a different threat to the Spanish and Casillas had to beat him in the air to make sure he could not reach a cross from Schweinsteiger. The big forward should then have been picked out again by Schweinsteiger, who saw another cross deflected wide off Klose.
The sudden flurry of German pressure led to Aragones alarmingly replacing the outstanding Fabregas with the more reserved Xabi Alonso and Spain just began to look like the old cracks might show up again, as Silva reacted to some goading from Lukas Podolski by appearing to aim his head at the German's head.
The Valencia man was quickly replaced by Santi Cazorla, but despite losing two of their key attacking elements, Spain regained the initiative, as Lehmann was forced to keep out an excellent Ramos header from a Xavi free kick.
Germany were then caught napping, as Xavi fed Iniesta from the corner and Torsten Frings had to clear off the goalline before there was time for another Iniesta effort to be blocked.
Still, with only a goal in it, the game remained anybody’s, though with Torres getting another run at Mertesacker, those supporting Spain will have sat up. This time he let it get away from him, but Spain continued to get breaks and Alonso fed Torres minutes later, with only last-ditch German defending preventing a return ball.
That was Torres’ last action, as once again he was taken off for Daniel Guiza, Germany simultaneously bringing on Mario Gomez for Klose as perhaps the two most likely goalscorers left the field with the game still finely-balanced.
Cazorla and Guiza combined to set up Senna with the chance to seal it, but his boot found only air six yards from goal and Xavi sent a free kick into space, as Aragones’ men failed to kill the game off.
But Germany were out of ideas, as Spain played the ball around until the final whistle, which heralded mass celebrations, long-awaited by Spanish players and fans alike and a perfect goodbye for Aragones - the oldest man to manage a team to European Championship glory - who is set for pastures new.