Spain Survives On the Wire and Knocks Out Germany

Spain vs Germany
Spain vs Germany (Credit: Getty Images)

Spain and Germany, the two biggest teams in Europe, pushed each other to the limit in Stuttgart, and at the limit while taking a downpour of blows, after having dealt them, Spain held on, propelled to the semi-finals against France by a header from Mikel Merino in extra time. Blow by blow, the two leaders were dismantled, two armies that attacked the final charges like a collection of cripples, lame people, and cramped people, in a finale that summed up the spirit of a formidable, raw, and vibrant fight.

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With just a few seconds left and Spain trying to hold on to their lead, everyone already exhausted, Musiala headed down the wing and flew past Carvajal, in the scruff of his neck. The defender drew on his last bit of energy and threw himself at the German. In any case, he already knew that he would not play in the semi-final, due to a yellow card. He knocked Musiala down and stayed on the grass stretching his calves, which were screaming from the pain of lactic acid. When Taylor showed him the red card, he almost crawled away, leaving Kroos, also suffering from cramps, with his last touch as a professional footballer: he crossed into the area with the crowd clinging to the “Toni, Toni…” as if it were a spell. There the match collapsed. And there the career of a genius ended.

But only after pushing Spain to dig deep, to celebrate reaching extra time when a storm of chances was coming their way. That’s when Olmo appeared, who had been waiting for his chance in Pedri’s wake, and who emerged after the Canary Islander’s injury. First, he put La Roja ahead and then revived them during extra time.

Germany entered extra time with the force of a whirlwind, just as they had arrived at the 90th minute, overwhelming Spain, wave after wave, close to scoring. At that point, with the team buckling under the weight of Germany’s efforts, Olmo found time with his dribbles, created space, and invited the passing back. Until he found Merino’s head and the Real player revived a team that had held firm during the first hour, until Nagelsmann pressed the alert button and De la Fuente’s fresh-up unit could not keep up.

No other team had come close to creating so much danger for them, surrounding Unai Simon so much, putting Lamine Yamal to sleep for some phases. They turned their flank into a pool of crocodiles. Nagelsmann had already warned them. First Kroos stepped on him, and from then on he always moved looking sideways, to see where the next push would come from, from Raum or Tah.

But Spain still had the other flank, from where Nico Williams created a scare early on. He drove the ball diagonally inwards, where he found promising ground for several minutes, waited for Morata to get into a tight corner with Tah in the area, and passed it to him. The captain left it for Pedri to arrive, who shot left-footed into Neuer’s lap. The first minute had not yet been completed.

Germany responded by scratching. Rodri sent Pedri running through the center, Kroos cut him off and took him out of the match. The Canary Islander took two more moves to withdraw, but in the 8th minute, he made way for Olmo. He left crying, with what looked like a sprained left knee. Germany gave Spain a rough welcome, with lots of clashes, and hard legs without much ball entry.

Until his heart rate dropped a bit and Gundogan began to maneuver in the center, with the support of Havertz, who dropped back a little and gave time for the full-backs to appear. Neither Musiala nor Sane appeared, under control. They are two teams that have been studied a lot and are very stable in their approach during the championship. The most observed. No surprises in the starting eleven, except for the entry of Emre Can, recovered, for Andrich. It was the turn of the Mannschaft, and Spain did not seem too uncomfortable either. The match accumulated a sustained tension that suggested it could explode at any moment, for either side. Gundogan found a run with Kimmich, the Bayern player put in a good cross and Havertz rose to head to the point where Unai was waiting.

Germany controlled the ball but not the whole picture. They knew that with Spain there are things that don’t appear until they steal the ball. Then Nico accelerates and finds Olmo, and the Leipzig striker unleashes a whiplash that rebels in Neuer’s hands. Nagelsmann’s team grows, but De la Fuente’s team does not lose its place, supported by Rodri and Fabian.

There is no respite. There is no contemplation. Not even on the benches, where interventions are already made at half-time. Nagelsmann takes off Sane, who is harmless, and Emre Can, who is imprecise, and brings on Wirtz and Andrich, who had helped Kroos control the midfield. On the other side, Nacho comes on for Le Normand.

By then, Lamine had already taken all of Raum’s measures. He started to do everything backward: he didn’t go looking for him but dragged him out. And that, which seemed harmless, was a huge risk. He leaned to the right, as if studying Raum, who watched him alertly, magnetized. Then he released a pass into the middle of the area, where Olmo accelerated and beat Neuer.

The goal shook Germany: Raum and Gundogan left and Mittelstadt and Fulkrug, a striker with a great finish, came on. The game had opened up and in the confusion, Spain found space to put the tie to bed. But the opposite happened. Nagelsmann’s battalion still had ammunition. One of the leaders of world football was not going to give up like that. Kroos refused to let it be his last afternoon and led a growing charge that found Havertz and Fulkrug more and more often, who warned by finishing off a counterattack against the post.

De la Fuente, who had already taken Yamal off, tried to defuse the chaos with Merino and Oyarzabal, but Germany had opened the floodgates to one of its classic avalanches. Scratching and striking. Havertz found himself with a succession of opportunities: two headers, a shot that was too high after Unai Simon made a mistake. Spain was stunned, and Wirtz equalized in the 88th minute. The onslaught grew and Spain, still standing, reached extra time with the trembling of Muller’s shot into the side netting. And there, on the edge, in its worst moment of the tournament, it rose above Olmo, who found Merino to reach the semi-final.

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