Three thoughts after Spain’s 1-0 win over Germany gave the Spaniards their first European championship since 1964 (and second major trophy in their country’s history):
• Spain’s victory is a victory for entertaining soccer. Nothing against the Germans, who played some memorable games in this tournament, but Spain was the best team in Euro 2008—and its championship is a symbolic reward in a Euro when attacking soccer came back to the forefront after a dark and dreary Euro 2004. Spain created more chances than Germany today and deserved to win, but Luis Aragonés’s men also played honest defense, allowing not a single goal in the three knockout-round games against Italy, Russia and Germany. This game won’t go down as a classic in the annals of the sport (how many finals ever do?) but it does conclude a classic tournament, one that I still consider to be the best major international soccer tournament since the 1986 World Cup.
• Spain’s England-based guys added even more nuance to their team’s attack. For most of the tournament I’ve thought that Aragonés undervalued his Premier League players: primarily Fernando Torres (who’d never play 90 minutes) and Cesc Fabregas (who wasn't able to crack the first-team lineup until the final). But Torres and Fabregas ended up being two of Spain’s most important players in this title run, not least because they melded the traditional Spanish short-passing style with a more direct approach that shows the influence of the league in which they play. El Niño’s hard-earned goal today wasn’t the only chance he created with the sort of scrappy hustle that we usually associate with Germany (and England), not Spain, and if the Spanish can continue to meld that grit with their youth, technical skill and forgetfulness of their past, we may be on the verge of a Spanish-dominated era in world soccer.
• Marcos Senna did it again. It would have been a perfect way for Spain to punctuate this European triumph if the magnificent Senna had scored on his point-blank chance in the 81st minute. And even though he failed to finish (proving why he's a defensive midfielder, I suppose), Senna put on another clinic today by preventing Michael Ballack from exerting an influence on the game. Ballack saw his own blood after knocking heads with Senna late in the first half, and from then on Ballack was a different player, one who couldn’t energize the German attack aside from a brief stretch midway through the second half. Before this tournament I wasn’t sure that Senna was the right choice as Spain’s midfield anchor, but it quickly became clear that he was one of the best players in all of Euro 2008.
Through-balls: From Blog pal Craig Stouffer after the match: “How do you think Raúl feels right now?” ... I kept waiting for what I felt would be the inevitable German push in the final minutes. None came, partly because Germany had some bad give-aways and partly because Spain didn’t go into the prevent defense and maintained possession extremely well. In the last 10 minutes it looked like Spain, not Germany, was the team that had been here before ... Philipp Lahm is a heck of a player, but he let Torres abuse him on that goal. After a momentary struggle with Torres, it looked as if Lahm actually let Torres go to get in on the ball ... Big credit to Spanish outside backs Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila for holding Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger in check. The German forwards were never much of a threat in this tournament, which meant a ton of pressure was on Podolski and Schweinsteiger, who just didn’t deliver this time.
Finally, I want to say thanks for reading during the Euro. This is the first time I've done a tournament-long blog, and the Comments section (with only one or two minor exceptions) has been a place where fans can discuss and debate with good humor, as if they were friends doing it over a drink after the game. For me the last three weeks have been a blast. I hope we can do it again soon.
Feel free to post your comments below!