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     Volume 7 Issue 27 | July 4, 2008 |

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Bienvenido De Vuelta, Espana!

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

What started out as a beautiful sunny day full of possibilities at the Ernst Happel stadium in Vienna soon became a day Germany remembers as coming oh-so-close, but not quite getting there in the end as they battled out the final game of the Euro Cup 2008 with Spain. The German team lost 0-1 to the Spaniards, a thrilling defeat that brought Spain out of the dry spell they had been in for 44 years. The last time Spain won an international title was in 1964, when they came first in the European Championship in Madrid.

The Euro Cup kicked off with a bang on June 7, 2008, with an amazing selection of Europe's best playing in Austria and Switzerland, including some surprising editions, such as Turkey and Russia, who made it into the semi finals -- Turkey beating Croatia with a 3-1 lead on penalties and Russia beating the Netherlands 3-1 in the quarter-finals. Germany, already defeating Portugal 3-2 in the quarter-finals, went on to triumph over Turkey 2-1, while Spain, after defeating Italy 4-2 on penalties during the quarters, played a grueling match against Russia, which they eventually won 3-0. It was evident from Spain's performance throughout the cup that this time they were here to win.

Since their team had not lost a single match in the entire tournament, it is no wonder that Spanish supporters had high hopes, as did Spanish coach, Luis Aragones, who warned his team before the final match that they “have to win; second is not enough” because “nobody remembers who comes second.” The 69-year old coach is now looking forward to ending his four-year long alliance with Spain, having led them to a historical victory.

German and Spanish supporters. Photos: AFP

Things were not going so well, however, for German coach, Joachim Low, who faced a glitch even before the final game started when the captain of his team, Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack, one of his star players, sustained a calf injury and was unsure whether he would be able to play against the Spaniards. In the end, Ballack shrugged off the injury and decided to play. Luck, however, was not on his side as he wounded his eye during the first half after a head clash with Spanish player Marcos Senna (Villareal).

It did not help that the Spanish team played like they were on fire, dominating the majority of the match -- even though it took them a little time to get into their usual rhythm, the beginning of the first half riddled with small mistakes and hesitations. But the Germans were not able to take advantage of these small weak moments. Instead they wasted these opportunities, an example being when German player Thomas Hitzlsperger (VfB Stuttgart) attempted to score a goal but it went straight to captain and goalkeeper of the Spanish team Iker Casillas (Real Madrid). Spain failed to counter this attack successfully, as a cross from Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta hit the boot of German player Christoph Metzelder (Real Madrid), and was deflected in the nick of time by German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann (VfB Stuttgart). Nine minutes later, Real Madrid midfielder Sergio Ramos crossed the ball over to Liverpool striker Fernando Torres, whose head butt bounced off the post, a lucky miss for the Germans.

In the end, however, Germany did not stand a chance, especially when, 33 minutes into the game Torres answered the prayers of his screaming red-and-yellow-clad fans, and scored a goal that the Spaniards will remember for years to come. He followed a through ball passed by teammate Xavi (Barcelona), outrunning German defender Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich) who was hot on his heels, lifted the ball over goalkeeper Lehmann, jumping over him as the ball eased into the goal. Spain attempted another goal only minutes after, when a cross by Iniesta was met by midfielder David Silva (Valencia), and shot over the top.

With only two minutes to go before half-time, Michael Ballack delivered another blow to his German fans, when he got into a scuffle with Spain defenders Carlos Marchena (Valencia CF) and Carles Puyol (FC Barcelona), and Italian referee Roberto Rosetti gave him a yellow card, a scary reminder of the 2002 World Cup game with Brazil, which he was suspended from.

Coach Low attempted to make a tactical change after half time, taking out Philip Lahm and sending in Marcell Jansen (Bayern Munich), and another at 55 minutes when he substituted Hitzlsperger for striker Kevin Kuranyi (FC Schalke 04), to strengthen his attack.

A moment's hesitation by Puyol almost cost Spain the equaliser that Germany was looking for as Ballack took possession of the ball and shot wide. It was of no use in the end, for Spain, revved up by Torres' amazing goal, was unstoppable. Not even midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern), who had been the demise of the Turkish and the Portuguese with his quick thinking and his lightning-paced goals, could save them. Schweinsteiger, however, blames the referee of the game, Rosetti, claiming that he was biased, especially when the Italian refused to give Silva a yellow card when he and German player Lukas Podolski (Bayern Munich) locked heads during an argument and Silva flicked his head towards the German.

But whether the referee was biased or not, nobody can deny that Spain's performance outshone the Germans by far, proved by a series of near goals towards the end of the match made by the Spaniards -- such as when Ramos caught the end of Xavi's free kick and headed the ball at a point blank range; or when a shot by Iniesta was cleared off the line by German player Torsten Frings (Werder Bremen). The real scare for Germany, though, was at 80 minutes, when RC Mallorca striker Daniel Guiza (substituted for Torres) headed the ball straight towards Senna who was right in front of the goal, but could not reach out far enough in time and missed the opportunity to make it a 2-0 victory against Germany.

Despite not managing a crushing triumph over Germany, this particular win has been monumental for Spain. Although the team has dazzled the crowds with their graceful, almost dance-like passes and moves as well as their agility and speed -- a characteristic found in their Latin counterparts as well -- the truth is that until now, most people considered the Spaniards to be almost complacent. They were known as the underachievers in football, very much unlike the Germans, whose mechanical passes and robot-like moves, while not being particularly crowd-pleasing, have proved them to be hard working. The cool-headed, almost unemotional playing of the Germans has worked for them in the past. This time, however, the Spanish have come out smiling, making sure that they are never regarded as underachievers again.

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