There were no major surprises as the expected elevens lined up for the final. J Low’s gambles were restricted to retaining two players who had not fully recovered from injuries – Torsten Frings and captain Ballack. Rolfes had done the job asked of him when he had been called upon to play and Frings had not looked the most impressive, especially against Portugal. Ballack would have been more difficult to leave out given the obvious absence of a replacement with his quality.
Aragones started Fabregas finally in a five-man mid-field, a line-up that had played sublime football against Russia and which was used in the first place only owing to David Villa’s injury. Luis had the option of starting Guiza along with Torres (or instead of) but chose to go with El Nino as the sole striker, looking to replicate the magic of the semi-final.
Joachim Low and his team approached the final with a degree of respect for their opponent and a plan based almost completely on defence with a single line of attack.
Out of the two fullbacks, only one – Lahm was to move forward with Friedrich supposed to stay back on the right. Frings was to stay well behind the centre line as well as were at least one of Hitzpelsberger or Ballack (mostly the former). Any attack was to be carried from the left with Lahm and Podolski using Ballack as the central link-up player to get close to the Spanish by-line and then look for Klose. Shweinsteiger was to be responsible for the right, but without the expectancy of support from the back or neighbouring mid-field was to move central or left as the situation demanded.
The major objective of the German defensive approach was to prevent the Spanish midfielders from making splitting passes which Torres could latch on to with a burst of speed. The defence was to line up close together and narrow so that the only attacking option available to the Spanish would be crosses.
Luis Aragones continued with his impressive performance as strategist-extraordinary by getting his team to do little things with big impact.
All players were given complete licence to attack (bar the centre backs) and with a five man centre, they could just as easily come back to defend in numbers. The cleverest trick was in the manner in which to beat the German defence which was so visibly suspect throughout the tournament (shipped two goals each in three games). In stead of trying to make through passes for Torres’ runs, they instead played the ball into the German defence but a little away from the German defenders. What it meant was that in stead of having to spot Torres’ run, they were putting the ball in positions for him to chase, backing their strikers’ ability to outrun the German defenders.
The narrowness of the German defence also allowed the central mid-field to play the ball dangerously to the empty flanks. However, so narrow was the German defence that the diagonal passes up front were in reality on the edge of the box, which allowed Iniesta to make some fine runs to trouble Germany.
On the pitch
Needless to say, that it was the Spanish plan that worked to perfection with Spain a goal up after Torres outran Lahm. The goal forced the Germans to be more adventurous with Frings and Hitzpelsberger getting more involved. Even Friedrich pushed forward in support. By the end all Germans were trying to push forward including Mertesacker but they got nothing for it. Metzelder his defensive partner has been more adventurous throughout with the spirit of a Libero though not quite having the qualities of Beckenbauer.
The Germans were on top for all of five minutes after Kuranyi came on, but their burst died off after a volatile Silva was substituted for Cazorla. Spain saw off the second half with an excellent display of attacking possession play with Senna and Xavi (man of the match and now officially the man of the tournament) in puppeteer mode.
It was fitting in the spirit of the tournament, that the team that came out looking to score rather than prevent won. Oh hell! Spain had the best players anyway.