Germany produce latest Euro 2022 statement performance as Spain left to regret lack of cutting edge

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·4-min read
Germany produce latest Euro 2022 statement performance as Spain left to regret lack of cutting edge
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So this is what happens when the coming force runs, once again, into its own historically immovable object.

Spain, the pre-tournament favourites for these European Championships, are threatening to take the women’s game to new heights, shattering attendance records in continental and home fixtures, proud owners of a thriving domestic league that has produced a national team of unrivalled technical brilliance, infused chiefly with genius of the (almost) all-conquering Barcelona.

But never before have they beaten Germany and following a terrific contest at the Brentford Community Stadium - by some distance the best of these Euros so far - the hoodoo remains very much in tact, after goals from Klara Buhl and Alexandra Popp earned the eight-times champions a 2-0 victory.

The immediate upshot is that Germany will qualify from Group B as winners with a game to spare, while Spain appear on collision course for a quarter-final meeting with England, provided they can clinch second spot in what is now a winner-takes-all third game against Denmark.

A week ago, that order of placings might have come as a mild surprise but the balance of power in the so-called Group of Death had already begun to shift with the cruel ACL injury to Alexia Putellas, even before Germany’s 4-0 thumping of supposed dark horses Denmark espoused any doubts about their credentials this time around.

Spain’s own emphatic victory over Finland set this fixture up as meeting of two genuine, in-form contenders, and while last night’s equivalent between Norway and England had disappointed, offering up a mis-match so blatant it might have belonged in the Love Island villa, it delivered, producing a game of captivating quality and heatwave-defying intensity.

The exception to both came inside the opening three minutes, when Sandra Panos dozily cleared straight to Buhl. The forward still had work to do but sold Irene Paredes a dummy and then fired low into the far corner, the kind of finish Germany must have feared they might lack for in the absence of the prolific Bayern Munich striker Lea Schuller through Covid.

Spain had not had time to settle, nor been given chance to by a merciless German press in midfield. They moved the ball quickly, yet the Germans seemed to move faster, rushing out into faces, shutting off spaces and defying the age-old assertion that no player travels faster than the ball.

Gradually, though, the magic roundabout of red began to whirr and Aitana Bonmati, a player whose gaze never drops below shoulder heigh, as if restricted by an invisible neck brace, began to take control. The midfielder found Barcelona teammate Patricia Guijarro with a fine pass between the lines and Lucia Garcia was sent clean through but wanted too much time, rounding the goalkeeper and finding the sidenetting as the angle closed.

Lucia Garcia should have done better when put clean through on goal (Getty Images)
Lucia Garcia should have done better when put clean through on goal (Getty Images)

Killer instinct was the only difference between two thoroughly watchable sides until the 36th-minute, when Felicitas Rauch’s corner, won after smart link-up by the impressive right-back Giulia Gwinn, was too easily headed home by Popp. Popp, the beneficiary of Schuller’s absence, had scored a sentimental fourth off the bench against the Danes, her first Euros outing in a career spanning more than 100 caps, but this was a goal of real substance.

After the break, the 31-year-old was involved in the incident that should really have settled the affair, when threatening to run through on goal from halfway, only to be pulled back by Paredes. Referee Stephanie Frappart gave nothing, however, and not for the first time in this tournament, the VAR decided the threshold for intervention somewhere beyond sky-high.It was a baffling non-decision, but one that kept Spanish belief in-tact.

Garcia broke in behind again but Merle Frohms was swiftly out to meet her, before Mariona Caldentey thought she had scored, only to be denied by the fingertips of the German ‘keeper.

After putting four past Finland, this was a night when Spanish fears that a lack of incision and clinical edge might cost them in the most crucial moments of this tournament returned. For all their fine football, with not only Putellas but also all-time leading scorer Jennifer Hermoso missing, there is no obvious quick fix.

As for Germany, each day of this tournament seems to bring a new “statement” performance from one of its big guns. But that they emerged from such a gripping, and for the large part, even contest with such a convincing win marks this out as perhaps the best yet.

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