Last-minute Spanish goal sets up dramatic ending for hosts Germany at Euro 2024

Mikel Merino dramatically secured Spain a place in the semi-finals of Euro 2024 on Friday, heading in the winning goal in extra time to beat hosts Germany 2-1 in Stuttgart.

Spain take on France in Munich on Tuesday after Les Bleus beat Portugal 5-3 on penalties in Hamburg following a 0-0 draw.

The match between Spain and Germany, a meeting of the top teams at the European Championship, appeared to be decided by penalties.

A largely uneventful first half gave way to a more open, attacking second period, with Spain taking the lead on a 51st-minute strike from Dani Olmo. A final goal from Germany’s Florian Wirtz forced extra time, and after 28 minutes it looked like both sides would need penalties to decide the winner.

Olmo then crossed into the penalty area, where Merino rose and headed the ball into the corner of the net.

“This could have been a final, and it certainly was,” Merino told reporters. “This was an elite team game, a constant back-and-forth, and we showed we have a great team.”

Germany had more chances to equalize in injury time. Two minutes later, Joshua Kimmich saw his shot from outside the penalty area blocked. A minute later, Niclas Füllkrug headed a header from close range wide.

Spain are returning to the semi-finals of the European Championship after losing to Italy at that stage of the 2021 competition. The achievement marked a breakthrough for the Iberian nation as they returned to the last four of a major tournament for the first time since 2012, when they won the second of two consecutive European titles at a time when they dominated world football. The team’s approach has helped inspire Germany’s current style of play.

Spain’s quality in this year’s tournament has brought back memories of the past and excitement for the future, fuelled by dynamic young talent. Where in the past the game was characterised by crisp passing and dominant possession, Spain have created a more comprehensive attacking threat through their speedy wingers.

Nico Williams, 21, is one of the most dangerous players in the competition. On the other side is 16-year-old Lamine Yamal, who became the youngest player to play at the European Championship when he started against Croatia in Spain’s opening match.

Yamal collected two assists in the group stage, in which Spain became the only team to win all three matches, beating Croatia, Italy and Albania without conceding a goal. Yamal added another assist on Friday, when he slotted the ball into the penalty area before Olmo fired it past Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

Spain’s youth were a topic of conversation ahead of Friday’s match, perhaps in part due to comments made by former goalkeeper Jens Lehmann on a German television channel.

“Technically they may be better than us. But they are small in height and they are inexperienced,” Lehmann told German television channel Welt. “They are a team of children. They have very young players. They don’t have much international experience.”

Lehmann may have felt vindicated late in Friday’s match, when Germany pushed for an equalizer and got it when Wirtz converted a Kimmich header to score from eight yards in the 89th minute. But the Germans faltered in extra time.

Referee Anthony Taylor gave eight yellow cards to Spanish players, seven of which came in the second half or extra time. Spanish defender Dani Carvajal was shown his second of the match, being sent off for blocking a threatening challenge from Jamal Musiala in injury time.

Spain will be without Carvajal and defender Robin Le Normand in Tuesday’s semi-final, after Le Normand received his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half, earning him a suspension.

Germany’s quarter-final exit continues a recent run of underperformance. Since reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2016, the Germans have failed to reach the last four of every European Championship and World Cup.

“We were so close — that’s what makes it so bitter,” said Germany midfielder Toni Kroos, who announced his retirement at the end of his team’s tournament in May. “To be honest, the feeling now is mainly that the tournament is over, because we all had a big goal that we wanted to achieve together. And this dream that we all had is just shattered.”

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