Sunday 29 June ~
Anyone who has watched the BBC’s coverage of Germany’s Euro 2008 matches so far will be steeling themselves tonight for a barrage of received wisdom presented as opinion. It won’t be entirely negative. The pundits will marvel at the Germans’ organisation, doggedness and will to win. We’ll also hear plenty about how lucky they have been. Some of this is simply reflects the sheer laziness of much television punditry – Martin O’Neill being an honourable exception among the BBC’s regulars – with a few other countries, notably Italy, also prone to being assessed in purely archetypal terms. But what’s galling about the prevailing view of the Germany side is that much of what has been said so far is obviously wrong.
For one thing, Germany have not been well-organised. Defensive slackness, seen both in open play and failure to concentrate at set pieces, could have brought about defeat in both their knockout matches. Handicapped by a frail defence and jittery goalkeeper, the team has done anything but grind out results. Instead, they have progressed largely thanks to moments of individual skill that have come out of the blue, as with Philip Lahm’s superbly taken winner late in the semi-final with Turkey.
Expect to hear admiration expressed for Germany’s ability to somehow always find their way to the latter stages of a tournament when they are not playing well. But while Germany did reach the World Cup Final in 2002 and the semi-final two years ago they have also flopped in the two most recent European championships. Indeed their victory over Poland in their first game at Euro 2008 was their first in the tournament since they last won it in England in 1996. Even if they win today Germany are not in a position to dominate European football as they did in the 1970s.
By common consent Spain are a better team than Germany in almost every department. The two sides have looked comparably frail in the centre of defence, but for the Spanish this has been camouflaged by Marco Senna’s man-of-the-match performances as a defensive midfielder. In defence and attack Spain have by far the greater strength in depth, even without the injured David Villa. But you don’t have to be a great team to win a major tournament. If a couple of key players are able to play at their best, that can be enough provided you can also neutralise your opponents. Spain themselves proved adept at stifling the quick-passing Russians in their semi-final. But if Michael Ballack and his muscular colleagues in midfield can impose themselves, Germany might just do it, with a breakaway goal, in extra time.