Germany 0 Spain 1
Fernando Torres was the hero for Spain tonight by firing them to Euro 2008 glory against Germany in Vienna – and ending 44 years of underachievement.
Torres struck in the 33rd minute at Ernst Happel Stadion and despite the efforts of Germany skipper Michael Ballack, they held on to their lead to spark wild celebrations in Austria’s capital.
Heavyweights in European football who produce a constant stream of individual talents, Spain had not won a major tournament since 1964 but finally shook off their tag of being chokers, not able to cope with the pressure of the highest stage.
They have also been perceived as a nation divided by their regions – the lyrics to their national anthem are not used – but full-back Sergio Ramos had kept mentioning the word “united” this week, and when Torres secured the Henri Delaunay for them they were just that.
Just shy of his 70th birthday, Luis Aragones will now leave his post as coach, probably for Fenerbahce, as a champion. Vicente del Bosque has been tipped to take over and he will inherit a young squad who have their sights on the World Cup.
While Portugal appeared destabilised by Chelsea announcing Luiz Felipe Scolari as their new coach during these finals, there were no signs of the same happening to Spain following Fenerbahce’s statement revealing Aragones as their new boss on the eve of their semi-final.
They finish as the tournament’s top goalscorers, helped by Torres who took the Premier League by storm with 33 rookie goals for Liverpool.
He was not on the top of his game for the whole of the tournament, but the 24-year-old stepped into the shoes of David Villa when Spain needed him.
“Viva Espana” sang their fans before the sangria started flowing.
This was billed as a clash of Germany’s efficiency and power versus Spain’s fluidity and creativity which were on display as Russia were swept aside in the semi-finals.
Germany’s drive came from Ballack, with the Chelsea midfielder passed fit despite carrying a calf injury on the eve of the final.
“Against the odds we will win the trophy”, read one headline from a German newspaper on the day of the game – and Ballack was seen as the key to their chances.
They had been inconsistent in the group stages, then stuttered past Turkey after outmuscling Portugal.
Only Ballack’s level of performance had been high throughout all of it but he ends the tournament a “nearly man” again.
Six years ago he missed the World Cup final through suspension just after Bayer Leverkusen missed a trio of chances for silverware.
This season Manchester United pipped him to the Premier League and Champions League – and he finds himself the bridesmaid once more.
Facing Ballack was a Barcelona-bred wall of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas in midfield, with Arsenal’s youngster getting his chance following Villa’s injury.
However, before they were allowed to impose themselves on the game, Germany had already wasted two early chances.
Ramos lost his bearings and gifted a pass straight to Miroslav Klose, whose poor touch let him down as he sped past Carles Puyol – and the opportunity had gone.
Then Thomas Hitzlsperger was teed up on the edge of the area by Klose but could not get purchase on his shot.
Spain started to move through the gears after their double reprieve, never looking back after they were let off the hook.
Their opening chance came after a Xavi pass had split the German defence to find Iniesta on the left. When the cross came over, Christoph Metzelder sliced towards his own goal and Jens Lehmann, the oldest player to feature in a European Championship final, athletically tipped around the post.
The post came to Lehmann’s rescue when Torres climbed above Per Mertesacker to meet Ramos’ centre – but the Liverpool man was not made to wait long for his goal.
It came 12 minutes before the break when Xavi played the ball beyond Philipp Lahm.
The full-back was favourite to clear but Torres used pace and power to get around him and chip over Lehmann before celebrating his goal by sucking his thumb.
It could have got worse for Germany had David Silva not volleyed over wildly when found at the far post by Iniesta.
German fans feared the worst when Ballack was forced off with a cut eye, but he returned after getting the bloodied injury treated twice. He was also booked along with opposing captain Iker Casillas for talking back at the referee.
Spain had chances to make it comfortable after the break, with Lehmann saving from Ramos’ header and Iniesta getting a drive cleared off the line.
Their own indiscipline almost cost them when Silva butted his head towards Lukas Podolski – but no card was shown.
Torres was taken off in the 78th minute, with his job already done in waking the sleeping giants of European football.