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28 Jun 2008 07:31
The battle for the Euro 2008 title is encapsulated by the midfield duel between Michael Ballack and Cesc Fabregas, where the German captain’s power is pitted against the Spaniard’s artistry in Sunday’s final.
If Ballack and his likely fellow enforcers Torsten Frings and Thomas Hitzlsperger can impose themselves and wrench control then it should be the familiar sight of a German triumph at the Ernst Happel stadium.
But if Fabregas, Xavi, Andres Iniesta et al can pass their way through and around their sturdy opponents then Spain’s 44-year wait for a trophy could finally be over.
Fabregas has been used off the bench for most of Spain’s path to the final but such was his impact as a first-half replacement for striker David Villa in Thursday’s 3-0 victory over Russia that he has become a likely starter.
Ballack, in contrast, was badly off-beam in Germany’s 3-2 win over Turkey but his inner-belief and burning desire to make up for missing the 2002 World Cup final through suspension could well lead to a man-of-the-match performance.
His coach Joachim Loew has been weaned on the same winning mindset. “We’ve got a victor’s mentality and are going to take that into the final,” he said of Germany’s quest for a fourth European title to add to their three World Cups.
Spain, appearing in their first final since 1984 and seeking only their second trophy following their 1964 Euro success on home soil, recognise the challenge that faces them but have seen their confidence leap having finally broken their hoodoo of major tournament quarterfinal defeats.
“Germany are Germany and they seem to win against whoever they play,” said Spain coach Luis Aragones.
“But it is very difficult for any team against us, especially when we add pace to our game.”
Each side is expected to field only one striker—Fernando Torres for Spain and Miroslav Klose, with two goals in the last two games, for Germany—handing even more responsibility to the midfielders.
Germany’s wide pair Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski, with five goals between them, have looked dangerous in that regard, both as providers and finishers.
Spain’s engine room has also found extra momentum, particularly on Thursday after the first-half injury to top scorer Villa, who seems certain to miss the final, led to a much more effective five-man midfield.
From the kickoff against Russia, Spain looked more purposeful than in their stilted show against Italy and Fabregas added an extra touch of class to the zippy passing when he joined the fray.
They will fancy their chances of threading their way through a powerful but not particularly mobile German back four.
Klose’s aerial threat presents a different challenge at the other end but Spain’s defence has gone about its business with a calm authority so far, with centre back Carles Puyol always on hand at the first hint of danger and goalkeeper Iker Casillas a comforting last line.
It is a fascinatingly poised encounter with Spain the narrowest of bookmakers’ favourites to finally take the step that their talent has for so long promised.
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