LONDON. In these few vital moments, the ruthlessness, the coldness, and the clinical effectiveness of it all were striking.
Spain looked in many ways a better team than Germany at the UEFA Women’s European Football Championship on Tuesday night. He had more ball and did more with it and offered more style and more industry and sometimes even a little more bite. And in a confrontation widely seen as a meeting between the continent’s footballing past (Germany won the tournament a record eight times) and its footballing present, it was Spain that often offered a glimpse into the future of European football.
However, Spain’s problem was that they missed two golden chances, Germany jumped on them both, and that was it. The Germans won 2-0 to claim a spot in next week’s quarter-finals, leaving the Spaniards to wonder if the tournament would really be their go-to.
“There were two big mistakes that we paid for,” said Spain coach Jorge Vilda, “but we know that this happens with Germany.”
It already looks like the Euro of what could have been for Spain: if veteran Jenny Hermoso hadn’t sprained his knee ligament a month before the tournament; if the best player in the world, Alexia Putellas, had not torn a ligament in his knee just a few days before the first match; if this cross had brought a little more flex, and that shot would have come with a little more flex.
Germany had none of these problems. His deep and talented team just got back to work on Tuesday: clearing the shots that needed to be cleared, salvaging those that slipped through, winning the battles that needed to be won. Style points hardly mattered when the final whistle blew. Germany, who have scored six goals and conceded none since arriving in England, got what they had to take.
In some ways, oddly enough, Spain’s second Euro game was better than the first. In the first match, he conceded a goal in less than a minute. It took almost three on Tuesday to do the same.
The goal seemed to come out of thin air, with Spain calmly edging the ball around their back, maneuvering from some pressure, as goalkeeper Sandra Paños gathered it in the net and fired it right into the stomach of German striker Clara Buehl. Bule fixed the ball, went around the defender and coolly sent it under Paños into the side net.
Stunned by an early goal for the second game in a row, Spain dusted themselves off and got back to work. In the first match against Finland, he redeemed his early mistake by scoring four goals. On Tuesday, he went looking for them again, with more than two-for-one possession, a few hundred more passes than the Germans, stroking the ball on the grass in a soothing geometry of neat zigzags, diamonds and triangles.
But the goals never came. And then, about half an hour after the first goal, Germany won a corner, kicked striker Alexandra Popp in the forehead and watched her nod past Paños. By that time, Spain was leading in almost every statistic, including “oohs” and “aahs”, but lagged behind only in what really mattered.
Germany’s victory was more than symbolic: by winning and taking control of Group B, Germany would likely avoid a quarter-final clash with England, who crushed Norway on Monday night8-0, in Group A – even if this clash eventually happens.
“We have the best teams in the world in Europe,” said defender Marina Hegering. “If you want to reach the final, you have to beat everyone.”
On the other hand, the defeat came on an already grim day for Spanish women’s football. Hours earlier, FC Barcelona, Putellas’ club team, had confirmed that her knee had been reconstructed by a surgeon, but that she would likely miss a whole year while she recovered. Her injury has already affected Spain’s prospects for these Euros. Now his hopes could bleed to death at the World Championships next summer.
But that’s a problem for tomorrow for Spain, who will look to bounce back against Denmark on Saturday and hopefully again after that in the upcoming quarter-final against England.
Germany, meanwhile, has been methodically moving forward with its second local match in a row, it looks like there’s still some time left in football’s past.