"I like you Spaniard. I shall cheer for you." -Gladiator
Spain and Germany will close a highly-memorable tournament when they meet in the Euro 2008 Final in Vienna Sunday. Spain is seeking just their second major championship- they won the 1964 Euros on home soil. Since that time, Germany (and West Germany before them) have won three Euros and two World Cups. Let's take a look at both sides before picking a winner.
The Germans entered Euro 2008 as favorites, and somehow they've reached the Final without producing victories that convince you they deserve that status. Their most complete effort was their 2-0 win in the opener against Poland, highlighted by a pair of Lukas Podolski goals. Since that time they lost to Croatia 2-1, and looked flat in a 1-0 win over Austria. In the knockout round they posted a pair of 3-2 wins over Portugal and Turkey in which they dazzled offensively, but looked shaky in their own end.
With four players who have at least two goals in this tournament- Podolski, Michael Ballack, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose- offense is hardly an area of concern for Joachim Loew. If Germany are to win the title, the man of the match will have to be goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. Is Lehmann still capable of the performances he showed at the 2006 World Cup? If he lets in questionable goals like those he surrendered against Turkey, Germany have no chance. But German nerve is always tough to top in a tight match, so if Lehmann keeps his side in the game, Germany have the horses to win.
For most sides, the loss of the tournament's leading scorer for the Final would be a disaster. But it's a reflection of the depth of Luis Aragones' team that David Villa's absence should pose few problems for Spain. All the pressure was on Spain in the quarterfinals due to their frequent struggles at that stage and against Italy. Having finally reached the semis, Spain looked far more confident and relaxed against Russia. Expect that confidence to carry over Sunday.
One of Spain's top players has been a man who wasn't even starting, Cesc Fabregas. That changes Sunday as the Arsenal playmaker will join the starting XI in place of Villa. Fabregas was criticized before Euro '08 for failing to replicate his form from the club level. That hoodoo has now fallen on Liverpool striker Fernando Torres, who has only one goal and has been substituted out for David Guiza in both knockout round matches. Torres will be the lone man up front Sunday and can erase all the memories of a rough three weeks with a goal in a victorious Final. With a wealth of talented midfielders supporting him, expect Torres to deliver.
In goal, Iker Casillas has very quietly become a dominant force in this tournament. He's posted back-to-back clean sheets in the knockout round, including two PK saves in the shootout win over Italy.
The venue: Ernst Happel Stadion, Vienna, Austria
The broadcast: ABC, 2:45 pm ET
The prediction: This is Spain's time (or tiempo de Espana, if you prefer). A 1-1 game at the half goes the Spaniards way in the second, and they take the championship with a 3-1 victory.