As unpredictable as football can be, the football gods rarely insist on throwing their weight behind an illogical outcome, Greece’s triumph at the last championships notwithstanding. Today, we have a well-deserving champion.
The Spanish team was not the only one that went through the tournament unbeaten (the unfortunate Croatians were knocked out in the quarterfinals without having lost a game in the course of play), and they did not manage to win all of their games (they beat Italy on penalties, which is the mechanism to decide who advances, but not who wins the game, IMHO), but they were the only team who was better than the opposition in every game they played. They played fast, skilled and attractive style up and down the field. They beat only one team emphatically – twice! – but don’t let the minimal margins of victory fool you: Only somewhat misplaced generosity with their finishing prevented the Spaniards from running up scores on their other opponents the way they did against Russia.
There was never a doubt of who would win in any of the contests involving Spain. In the final, the Germans had one moment early in the game that failed to develop into a proper chance, and then just one single shot on goal that could have been counted as a half-chance. The Spaniards could have easily scored a handful. In the end, a brilliant pass from Xavi (who clearly earned his “Player of the Tournament” honors with his overall display over the course of the campaign) and a no less brilliant and determined effort from Fernando Torres produced the winning goal that sent Spain to their first major trophy in 44 years.
The Germans were a flawed team, especially on defense, producing a dominating display only in their opening game against the inferior Polish team, and then being worthy of a win only against Portugal in the quarters. But you have to tip your hat to them: Somehow, by the skin of their teeth, Germany seemingly always finds a way to figure among the contenders.
All in all, it was a grand and entertaining tournament. Too bad that it appears unlikely that I’ll have another chance to follow a World Cup or a Euro Championships this closely in the foreseeable future.
On a side note, I watched the final over a plate of fine cheese and wine. A bit unorthodox, I admit, but no less enjoyable.