After seeing some surprising results at the 2008 European Championships, two of Europe’s, and the world’s for that matter, powerhouse countries have made it through to the final.
The battle-tested German side will meet the historically ill-fated Spaniards on Sunday to decide who reigns supreme in Europe. And, what an intriguing matchup this is.
After delivering one of the most impressive performances of the first round against Poland, Germany went on to barely make it out of the group stage. They lost 2-1 to Croatia, then beat Austria 1-0 thanks to a punishing free kick by Michael Ballack to send them through to the knockout stage.
There, Germany managed to hold on late against a Portugal comeback and defeat the Group A winners 3-2.
In the semi-finals, Germany found themselves matched against a Turkish side that was depleted due to injuries and suspensions. Still, it required last-minute heroics from Phillip Lahm, who produced a goal in the 90th minute, to send the Germans through to the final.
On the other end, the Spaniards were much more comfortable in the group stage. They won all of their matches to finish at the top of Group D.
But the Spanish squad would face a stern test against the reigning World Cup champion Italy. The Italians played staunch defense and forced the game into penalty kicks. There, Iker Casillas proved his worth, blocking the Italians twice and sending Spain through.
In the semi-finals, Spain repeated what they did to Russia the first time the two squads met in this tournament as they won by a three-goal margin.
Now, the month-long journey comes to an end. And what a finish we have in store for us.
The Germans are tacticians. They take care of the ball in midfield and can string passes through to set up their world-class strikers. Miroslav Klose was struggling early in the tournament, but with two goals in his last two matches, he looks to be returning to form.
The Spanish have been the most fun team to watch this tournament. They attack relentlessly and play beautiful football, one-touching the ball around the field. They attack through the middle of the defense, as opposed to the Germans who like to play from the outside in.
Both offenses can expose the other squad’s defensive weaknesses. For the German offense, they have been most productive on dead balls. Their strikers have great instinct to find gaps in the defense and fly by their markers, all the while getting the highest quality of free kicks delivered in by their midfielders.
This can give the Spanish defense fits because they are not known for their size. The Spaniards are excellent at foiling a team’s possession in the middle of the field, but they are far less effective when dealing with balls in over their heads.
The Spanish offense is just the opposite. They love to run at their opponents, using their speed and quick touches to fly by defenders and find passing lanes that don’t even exist for most other squads.
This can be a big problem for the Germans because their central defenders are tall, but slow. Christoph Metzelder and Per Mertesacker are both known as being highly vulnerable when they are attacked head-on by opposing forwards.
In the end, I think the speed and creativity of the Spanish will outclass the slower and more methodical German side.
My pick: Spain wins a very close and well-contested match 3-2.