Spain crowned Euro champions

Fernando Torres's first-half goal stood up as the winner as Spain earned a thrilling 1-0 victory over Germany in Sunday's Euro 2008 final in Vienna.
Spain players hold the Henri Delaunay Trophy aloft after beating Germany 1-0 in Sunday's Euro 2008 final in Vienna. ((Franck Fife/Getty Images))

Spain is soccer's great under-achiever no more.

Fernando Torres's first-half goal stood up as the winner as the Spanish earned a thrilling 1-0 victory over Germany in Sunday's Euro 2008 final in Vienna.

Forty-four years of futility and heartbreak came to an end for the Spanish, whose only other victory at a major international tournament came on home soil in the final of the 1964 European Championship when it defeated the Soviet Union.

Spain's victory also denied Germany a record fourth European title.

"My job is to score goals," Torres said. "I want to win more titles and be the most important player in Europe and the world."

Spain's record of underachievement is legendary. They have qualified for 12 World Cups but have managed to advance beyond the quarter-finals only once, in 1950. Aside from winning the 1964 European Championship, Spain has chronically disappointed at the international level.

It's a puzzling track record for a country that boasts one of the best professional leagues in the world and the arguably greatest club in all of soccer, Real Madrid, which has won the Champions League/European Cup nine times.

But the Spaniards finally put to rest claims they couldn't win the big one thanks to a poised performance against the Germany.

"We have composed a group which plays well, adjusts very well and it is difficult to stop the group," Spain coach Luis Aragones said. "We have won in a brilliant way. We will be able to start saying we can win, a European championship as well as any other thing."

German captain Michael Ballack started the final despite a calf injury scare. The Chelsea midfielder missed Germany's final two practices and was only deemed healthy enough to play about an hour prior to kickoff.

Spain was without David Villa, the tournament's top scorer with four goals, who was sidelined with a right leg injury. He was replaced by Cesc Fabregas, as Spain fielded a five-man midfield with Torres as the lone striker.

Germany dominated early and took advantage by putting pressure on the timid-looking Spaniards by stroking the ball around and running directly at the Spanish defence.

Ballack showed no ill effects of his calf injury, pulling the creative strings for Germany with his trademark silky, smooth passing skills and probing runs.

Spain's nervous display nearly cost them in the third minute. Defender Sergio Ramos made a dreadful back pass that Miroslav Klose intercepted, but Carlos Puyol stopped the German forward before he could get a shot off.

Having survived that scare and Germany's swarming attack, Spain settled down and threatened the German goal in the 14th minute. Andres Iniesta's cross into the penalty area was deflected by German defender Christoph Metzelder, and goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was forced to make a reflex save.

Fernando Torres celebrates after scoring against Germany. ((Vincenzo Pinto))

Suddenly the Spanish, renowned for their up-tempo passing game, came alive and they begun to dominate proceedings, asking serious questions of the German defence.

Ramos made up for his earlier gaffe by setting up another Spanish scoring chance midway through the half. The Real Madrid defender floated a perfect high ball deep into the German penalty area for Torres who out-jumped the towering Per Mertesacker and sent a powerful header crashing against the post.

Torres wouldn't be denied, though, and the Liverpool striker bagged his second goal of the tournament in the 33rd minute. Xavi Hernandez delivered a slide-rule pass for Torres who slipped between two German defenders and burst into the box before chipping the ball over the onrushing Lehmann and into the back of the net.

Ballack went down with blood streaming down his face after accidentally clashing heads with Marcos Senna. With the German captain on the sidelines for several minutes receiving treatment, the Spanish continued to press but couldn't covert with the man advantage.

The Germans came out with plenty of purpose at the start of the second half, wresting control of the game away from the Spaniards.

Forward Kevin Kuranyi replaced midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger in the 58th minute, breathing new life into the German attack. Ballack and Bastian Schweinsteiger found their way past the Spanish defence, testing goalkeeper Iker Casillas for the first time in the game.

Spain absorbed the German pressure and hit back when Iniesta flicked a shot at the near post that was palmed out of danger by an alert Lehmann.

Germany pressed for the equalizer in the final 15 minutes, but Spain held firm, turning back the Germans at every turn and held on for the win while the throng of Spanish fans serenaded their heroes with chants of olé.

"Spain played very well during whole tournament and they were technically excellent," Germany coach Joachim Low said. "They fully deserve victory."

With files from Associated Press