One burst of acceleration, a change of direction, a flick past Jens Lehmann and a stumble to stay on his feet: so Fernando Torres won Euro 2008 last night with a moment of brilliance. It epitomised the flair, panache and style which Spain have stood for at this tournament and it was the moment when their brightest young matador dispatched a very stubborn, cantankerous old bull.
That was Germany: tired, short on ideas and easily defeated in the end. Their stern old resistance was not enough, not against a team who pass the ball like gods and never more so than last night when, in the blink of an eye, they scored the goal that decided this final. Forty-four years after Spain last won this competition, their only other major international trophy, it was Torres' goal which will come to define the new champions of Europe and their formidable attacking football.
The Spanish are impossible to dislike, a team of passing maestros who might have been physically dwarfed by their German opposition but towered above them in the more technical elements of the game. It was not Michael Ballack's day, neither was it Cesc Fabregas' day, he forlornly bowed out after the hour. Rather it belonged to Marcos Senna, Spain's outstanding midfielder, and Torres too. At times the Liverpool striker can seem strangely emotionless on the pitch, he is a minimalist who scores goals and does precious little else. But who cares when he seizes the day as he did in Vienna last night?
Amazing to think that this is the Spain team who lost 3-2 to Northern Ireland in qualifying in September 2006 and, since then, have built themselves into the best team on the continent. They should have had many more last night. The credit must go to that old anti-hero Luis Aragones who, even in victory, just turned away and tucked his shirt in with the air of a man who, confronted with the greatest moment of his career, did not quite know what to do. When his players gave him the bumps they did so with the restraint of those who know that 69-year-olds should only be thrown into the air with great care.
Not quite Deutschland uber alles, more like Deutschland under Torres. Ballack has the misfortune to be born into one of the few generations of German footballers who, him aside, do not quite have enough talent among them to go all the way, although they have gone a lot further than England usually manage. Last night you could see the frustration in the Germany captain, bloodied over the eye and surrounded by men who did not quite live up to his exacting standards.
In defeat the Chelsea man was dignified and good-humoured, there were no tears from this man, it is just not his style. The cruel joke would be that he has plenty of experience in this field, what with the two Champions League final defeats – including this May – and the 2002 World Cup final suspension. Yet still, he took it well, doubtless aware that this Germany team had at last encountered an opponent against whom unrelenting self-belief would not be enough. The great thing about being a German footballer is that you can always count on another final, although for Ballack this could be it.
The under-achievers of European football triumphed over the continent's over-achievers and unless you happen to carry a German passport that was the right result for this tournament. Spanish football has produced a wonderful generation of players capable of seizing the moment in a manner in which their predecessors since 1964 have failed to do. Like England they too have one of the best domestic leagues in the world but they have demonstrated that does not have to come at the cost of the national team.
This was emphatic, a game that was comfortably controlled by Spain where it mattered most. Germany might have had 52 per cent of the possession but Aragones' team had 13 shots to their opponents' two. In the early stages Miroslav Klose pounced on Sergio Ramos's poor pass but could not fashion a chance and barely got a sniff after that. Torres out-jumped the 6ft 7in Per Mertesacker on 23 minutes, directed his header against the post and you just knew that the goal was coming.
It arrived on 33 minutes when the excellent Senna found Xavi lurking in space inside the German half. The Barcelona midfielder was exceptional, the statistics tell us that he ran further than any player last night and he played the crucial defence-splitting ball out to the right channel. Mertesacker and Christoph Metzelder had never looked comfortable dealing with Torres and this time it was Philipp Lahm who was left to do it. He made a hopeless mess of it, first getting himself on the wrong side and then allowing Torres to accelerate on the outside of him and chip the ball over Lehmann.
Spain could have ended it moments after the goal when Andres Iniesta had a shot saved. It got worse for Germany when Ballack clashed heads with Senna and was twice sent back to the touchline by the Italian referee to clean up the blood that was dripping down the side of his face. Those moments felt crucial at the time, with their captain having his faced stitched up on the touchline in the latter stages of the first half they seemed incapable of generating the momentum to respond.
Joachim Löw tried to change it, he brought off Lahm, he switched to 4-4-2 with the introduction of Kevin Kuranyi, the big Schalke striker, and changed the complexion of his team completely. They flourished briefly and then Aragones responded. He brought on Xabi Alonso for Fabregas whose slow trudge to the touchline, head down, told its own story. Ramos should have scored with a header, Torsten Frings kicked Iniesta's shot off the line.
Aragones is certainly no crowd-pleaser, he replaced Torres with Daniel Guiza and the Real Mallorca forward came close to making a goal for Senna who just lunged in vain for the ball across the area. As for Germany, you could read it in their faces. There was none of the shock and despair that accompanied Croatia's defeat, or Turkey's at the hands of the Germans. This time the Germans knew that they had been trying to gatecrash a tournament that belonged to the Spanish.
Germany (4-2-3-1): Lehmann (Stuttgart); Friedrich (Hertha Berlin), Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Metzelder (Real Madrid), Lahm (Bayern Munich); Hitzlsperger (Stuttgart), Frings (Werder Bremen); Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Ballack (Chelsea), Podolski (Bayern Munich); Klose (Bayern Munich). Substitutes used: Jansen (Bayern Munich) for Lahm, h-t; Kuranyi (Schalke) for Hitzlsperger, 58; Gomez (Stuttgart) for Klose, 78.
Spain (4-4-1-1): Casillas (Real Madrid); Ramos (Real Madrid), Marchena (Valencia), Puyol (Barcelona), Capdevila (Villarreal); Iniesta (Barcelona), Senna (Villarreal), Xavi (Barcelona), Silva (Valencia); Fabregas (Arsenal); Torres (Liverpool). Substitutes used: Alonso (Liverpool) for Fabregas, 63; Cazorla (Villarreal) for Silva, 65; Guiza (Mallorca) for Torres, 78.
Referee: R Rosetti (Italy).
Booked: Germany Ballack, Kuranyi; Spain Casillas, Torres.
Man of the match: Senna.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies