Keys To Victory: Germany - Spain

Clark Whitney looks a the main tactical and personal battles to come as Germany gear up to meet La Furia Roja in the final of Euro 2008...
Tomorrow’s much anticipated Euro final pits tournament favorites Germany against in-form Spain.  For both sides, the upcoming match is of utmost importance: Spain are looking to win their first European Championship since 1964, and tomorrow marks Germany’s last chance to extend their record to four consecutive decades with victory in at least one major tournament.  While they were given the best odds (4-1) of winning the Euro, Germany have struggled at times, losing 2-1 to Croatia and barely producing 3-2 victories over Turkey and Portugal on their way to the final.  Spain, on the other hand, are in great form, having won every match in the tournament thus far except for an official draw against Italy in which they won the penalty shootout 4-2.

Will They, Won't They

Tomorrow, the most important factors for Germany will be the same as have been displayed during their last two matches: desire to win and efficiency.  These two themes have for years been cornerstones of German football, and at Euro 2008 thus far have served the Germans well.  Against Portugal, we saw the Germans take just 10 shots, 5 of which were on goal, and 3 of which went into the net.  They lost possession nearly 3:2, and very rarely controlled the ball in their attacking third.  In many ways, the Germans were outplayed: Portugal dominated possession and took 18 shots, but only 6 of these shots were on goal and, most importantly, just two made it past keeper Jens Lehmann and into the net.  Against Turkey, Germany fared much the same, losing possession 45-55% and taking just 7 shots to the Turks’ 17.  Turkey were able to put 11 shots on goal to Germany’s 3, but only managed 2 goals to Germany’s 3.  Indeed, it is their efficiency and ability to score out of nowhere (as exhibited by fullback Philipp Lahm’s 87th minute winner against Turkey) that has historically set Germany apart in tournament play.  During the group stages, Germany struggled to replicate the success they had during qualification with use of their 4-4-2 formation, and it was clear that they were uncomfortable with their “favorites” status. 

Teutonic Efficiency

Their lack of composure in front of goal and a few poor performances from key players led to somewhat unnerving results early in the tournament.  In the quarterfinals, however, coach Joachim Loew changed plans and used the same tactics that Croatia used to great success against his own team: Loew’s squad played in a defensive 4-5-1 formation and, unlike before, took advantage of what few opportunities they had on set pieces and on the break.  In changing his tactics, Loew recaptured the spirit of German football and prepared his team for matches against dynamic and aggressive opponents from groups C and D, including Spain.

The major concern most German fans have recently had is the complacency of their team against allegedly “lesser” opponents.  Compared to their performance against Portugal, the German defenders were extremely weak: fullback Arne Friedrich had just recently shut down Cristiano Ronaldo, but against Turkey was caught watching the ball and was largely responsible for Ugur Boral’s opener.  On the opposite flank, Lahm also had a miserable defensive game and was crucified in the play that led to Semih Senturk’s late equalizer.  It was entirely possible that the Germans were already looking ahead to the final, but regardless, we can expect a very disciplined and highly motivated German squad to come out tomorrow.  The main question is whether that will be enough to manage a victory.

All Guns Blazing

For Spain, it will be most important to establish dominance early and show no mercy.  The Germans have been prone to having poor starts lately, and Spain have an abundance of midfield talent they can use to control the flow of play.  They may likely find themselves with a very comfortable hold on tomorrow’s match, but Spain cannot afford to lose composure, even for a moment: Portugal were dominant early on against Germany, but a sudden flash of brilliance led to an early opener for the Germans.  Spain need to take advantage of their opportunities by going for the kill at every chance: they cannot afford to set up camp in front of the Germans’ goal and simply try to pass the ball into the net.  It’s this sort of play that leads to penalty shootouts— never a good plan against the Germans— or worse, goals conceded on the counterattack. 

Thus as skilled as they are at pressing forward, fullbacks Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila will have to be careful not to be caught out of position, as Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger have combined for breakaway goals in Germany’s last two matches.  Offensively, Spain find themselves in a familiar position: they face a very defensive German team that will often try to avoid open play.   Many would tout Spain’s pace and quick passing as a huge advantage, although those will be only occasionally useful against a defensive German team.  As well, attempting to muscle their way to victory by setting up camp and firing continuous crosses into the box will be difficult for Spain to do among the towering German central defenders and defensive midfield.  Possibly Spain’s most useful asset tomorrow will be their creativity.  Playmakers Xavi and Cesc Fabregas will play integral roles towards the success of their team, and their ability to find striker Fernando Torres— and possibly Daniel Guiza— inside the box will be crucial.

The Nearly Men?

In their history, Spain have probably been their own greatest critics: 44 years with no major championships have given rise to low player morale, which has on many occasions led to early exits for the Spanish.  However, it is likely that advancing to the finals at Euro 2008 has been enough to alleviate nerves.  If this is true, the Spanish will be in prime position to end their drought and make history with their second major tournament victory.

As of now, this one is too close to call.  In fact, it’s probably safe to say that it won’t be safe to call a winner until 4:30 EST— or even later— tomorrow.  However, given the fact that Germany and Spain are both extremely motivated, it’s almost certain that we’re in for a fantastic display of skill in another epic European final.

Clark Whitney