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UEFA European Championship 2008 Finals Preview

This article has been submitted by Mostafa El Beheiry.

So it’s been a long road to the final match of Euro 2008, but here we are. This has been one of the most exciting tournaments in recent memory with boring, negative, defensively oriented teams bowing out, for the most part, in the group stages. In Germany we have a team that carried the odds to win the tournament but that disappointed in their group, finishing second to an up and coming Croatian team that should be feared come the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The Germans regained their form against Portugal but were less than impressive in their win against the surprise of the tournament, Turkey, to put them into the finals.

Spain’s tournament couldn’t have gone better; they topped their group displaying some beautiful football and a degree of mental toughness that Spanish teams of the past have lacked. This strength got them through a penalty shootout against a team that thrives on them in Italy, putting to bed a 24 year curse that has kept them out of the semi-finals in all international tournaments. In fact, 24 years ago was the last time Spain has been in a major final and they broke that hex with their decisive semi-final win against Russia, putting them in a great position to win their first international title since 1964.

This year’s finals pit a country looking for its record 4th European title against a country looking to drop a 44 year reputation of being the biggest underachievers in international football. If you’ve been following my Euro 08 coverage, you know that I’ve been backing Spain to take the Henri Delaunay Trophy since the start of the tournament and on that note, this preview will be more to feed my ego than maintain any journalistic integrity that I may have. Sorry Germany.

Goalkeeprs, Iker Casillas v Jens Lehman
Casillas has conceded 2 goals this tournament against Lehman’s 6 with 2 cleansheets apiece. I think Saint Iker has been the better tender in terms of positioning; Lehman let in a weak near post goal against Turkey that any keeper should have been all over and I’m not entirely convinced on his work ethic this tournament. Though it’s hard to fault a keeper for a goal coming off a goal post rebound, Lehman seemed to be too slow reacting to that type deflection against Croatia and the Turks. At 38 years old maybe he’s getting too old for the game; he’s 11 years older than Casillas and frankly, it’s hard not to take Casillas, at the peak of his career playing with Real Madrid, as the better keeper. Note: I also despise Lehman based on his recent club play/behaviour at Arsenal; he’s got some attitude issues and I wouldn’t be surprised if he picks up a yellow card in this game… hopefully a red one.

Going into the tournament Spain’s defence was a source of criticism and none would have predicted that at this point they would be more highly rated than what is normally a sound German back four. The center back duo of Carles Puyol and Carlos Marchena have surprised many with how solid they are in front of Casillas. Full backs Joan Capdevila and Sergio Ramos have been an incredible threat going forward down their respective wings with only Ramos showing signs of being a defensive liability. He silenced his critics (which included yours truly) with an exceptional defensive performance against Russia, being an integral part of Spain’s effort in making an unperson (excuse the 1984 reference) of Andrei Arshavin.

The problem for Germany lies in the same positions that raised doubts of Spain’s defence. First though, their full backs have been solid; Philipp Lahm had his only real blemish defensively this tournament against Turkey but more than made up for it by scoring the winner while Arne Friedrich has been a wall on the right side since he came back from injury. The issue for Germany going into the finals is that their two 6’3” plus centre backs, Cristoph Metzelder and Per Mertesacker, won’t be able to handle the pace and precision passing of the Spanish attack which will obviously keep the ball on the turf rather than attempt to take it to the air.

Spain’s back four have proven themselves in this tournament more than their German counterparts, but Germany could still exploit their size advantage. More tellingly however, Spain’s defence has called on Iker Casillas to make only 8 saves in this entire tournament versus the 24 that Lehman has been forced to make.

Spain’s midfield has been unreal all tournament and is the definition of depth with the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso not cracking the starting XI. A tight short passing game (they call it tiki-taka) and maintaining possession (longest average ball possession in the tournament at 54.6%) has been the key to Spain’s success; they’re at the top of the tournament in terms of average passes per game (602.8; 2nd best is Germany at 476.8) as well percentage of passes complete (81.8%; again 2nd best is Germany at 75.8%). Already there’s the trend that the Germans are second best to Spain, but Michael Ballack and co. will be the toughest opponents the Spanish will have faced come Sunday, that is, if they’re on their game. I don’t want to overanalyze the midfield because it comes down to one thing; Germany can’t give Spain any room in midfield otherwise they’ll get passed off the pitch just like nearly every other team that’s allowed them that luxury.

How do you stop the tournament’s leading goal scorer in David Villa? The German’s won’t be asking themselves that question as Villa is poised to be a spectator in the final as he nurses a thigh injury that forced him to end his night early against Russia. Though his ability to finish and to get behind defenders will be missed, his loss opens the door for one of Spain’s outstanding players this tournament despite being a regular on the bench. Cesc Fabregas came in for Villa in the semis, playing directly behind Fernando Torres as more of an attacking midfielder than a second striker and the inclusion of the tournament’s assist leader (3) helped to add fluidity to the Spanish attack and consequently their dominance of Russia. Speaking of Torres, he has been very quiet this tournaments with just a goal to his name but he’s gotten a lot of chances. Knowing that his counterpart on the bench, Danny Guiza (La Liga’s leading scorer this season with 27 for RCD Mallorca), has been an excellent substitute for Spain with 2 goals in the tourney should inspire Torres to make good on his chances against the Germans.

For fairness’ sake, the Germans have legitimate threats up front as well. Though Miroslav Klose has been quiet for most of the tournament, he seems to have peaked at the right time, scoring a goal in each of his last two games. A calf injury to Lukas Podolski earlier in the tournament seems to have put him off his form in the group stages where he netted 3 goals in 2 games; his goal tally hasn’t changed since then. Mario Gomez is feeling the effects of missing numerous chances by being relegated to a bench role and hasn’t seen any action since his first game as a sub. Germany’s forwards have something to prove come Sunday and I’m sure they’ll be on their game but a lack of creativity in balls coming towards them from the midfield will make an easy night for Marchena and Puyol.

Mocash’s Money Pick
I’ve said it before; I’ve got Spain to take this game and the title. The German’s defence will be their downfall, they were like a sieve against Turkey, whose forwards were able to get behind them fairly easily and cause problems inside the box. They were able to get away with those defensive miscues because of a lack of skill in the Turks that isn’t present in the Spanish. 2-1 Spain to cap off the 2008 European Championships.

This article has been submitted by Mostafa El Beheiry.

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One Response to “UEFA European Championship 2008 Finals Preview”

  1. Blake Murphy Says:

    “Yo yo yo lemme speak on this! Odelay!!! Viva la razza!!!” - Konnan/K-Dogg (or whatever he actually says)

    Basically…go Spain! Yee!

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