Merino’s last-gasp strike knocks Germany out, takes Spain to Euros semis | Football News

Merino’s last-gasp strike knocks Germany out, takes Spain to Euros semis | Football News

New Delhi: Just after surviving a five-setter against Francis Tiafoe at Wimbledon, the first thing Carlos Alcaraz wanted to know was the score of the Germany vs Spain quarter-final at Euro 2024. It was a measure of the excitement the game had created among the football faithful. And it didn’t disappoint.

Spain's Mikel Merino celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during their quarter-final against Germany on Friday (AP)
Spain’s Mikel Merino celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during their quarter-final against Germany on Friday (AP)

The two heavyweights of international football fought to a standstill and when the dust finally settled, the Spaniards, courtesy a Mikel Merino header deep in extra time, were heading into the semi-finals. They had won 2-1 at the end of a titanic struggle. The last time Spain beat Germany in Germany was in 1935 and this win was earned in every sense of the word.

By most metrics, the quarter-final was worthy of a final. Both teams finished top of their groups, both were unbeaten, are the leading scorers in the tournament and also have the most attempts on target. There was history between the two sides as well — a 36-year winless run for Germany against Spain in tournaments, including Euro 2008 final heartbreak and a loss in the 2010 World Cup semi-final. There was everything to play for but a knockout can bring a different kind of pressure and it sometimes throws teams off a little.

For much of the first half, it seemed like that. The lack of attacking quality despite producing plenty of chances hurt both teams but a half-time pep talk sparked the game to life. Just after the second half began, a moment of youthful magic from Lamine Yamal opened up the German defence and set Dani Olmo up for the finish that gave Spain the lead.

Yamal, just 16 years old, received the ball on the right and cut in with with Jonathan Tah and David Raum blocking his path. He could have chosen to take them on but instead, he showed his attacking intelligence to simply lay the ball into Olmo’s path. The Spain No.10, who had come on early in the first half after Pedri was forced off with an injury, made a lovely run from the deep — the kind that can often be so difficult for defenders to pick — and produced a calm finish.

This was the moment when the game changed. Now trailing, Germany started throwing more players into attack and Spain were forced to defend against wave after wave. The momentum shifted and the chances started coming for the hosts. It almost resulted in a goal in the 77th minute when Florian Wirtz got past Marc Cucurella and squared the ball from right towards the near post. Niclas Fullkrug, with Nacho sticking to him was unable to keep him balance but he stuck his foot out and steered the ball towards the goal. It hits the foot of the upright and rolled clear. Spain survived but Germany had come so close.

Just four minutes later, the Spanish goalkeeper was booked for time-wasting. Then, he sent a terrible goal-kick straight to Kai Havertz around 40 yards out. The German striker tries to chip the goalkeeper, who was off his line, and only missed by the barest of margins. It sailed over the bar and Spain survived again.

But just when Spain would have started to dream a little, Germany struck as they have so often done. Florian Wirtz, who had come on in the 46th minute, showed why one can never count the Germans out by finding the equaliser in the 89th minute. Maximilian Mittlestadt sent a cross over and Kimmich’s brilliant header sent the ball from the far post back into the dangerous area.

Wirtz, who was the Bundesliga player of the year, was alert to the opportunity that presented itself and scored from eight yards out.

Extra time beckoned and it was just as tough as the rest of the match. The players were tiring but no one was ready to give an inch. Wirtz had another chance but this time he chose to try and place the ball in the corner but the spin saw it miss the goal altogether. There was more but in the end, a lovely cross by Olmo saw Merino rise up to finish in style.

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