JONATHAN SHALLARD in STUTTGART — Germany and Spain, respectively hosts and favourites and both record three-times champions, had been the most outstanding teams at UEFA Euro 2024 so destiny decreed they should contest almost a full 120 minutes before La Roja settled a classic quarter-final.

All three goals in the 2-1 victory which extended Spain’s status as the only finalists with a 100pc record were scored by substitutes. Dani Olmo, who plays his club football in the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig, put La Roja ahead early in the second half before a storming reaction earned Germany a deserved last-minute equaliser from Florian Wirtz.

In the dying minutes of extra time Mikel Merino sprang, almost out of nowhere, to head the crucial Spanish winner.

Spain’s first victory over the hosts in Germany since a friendly in 1935 also marked the end of the career of Toni Kroos who retires now after earning much of his glory, ironically, in Spain with Real Madrid. Controversy will pursue Germany out of ‘their’ tournament after the refusal of referee Anthony Taylor to award them a penalty for handball two minutes before Merino’s breakthrough.

Toni Kroos: The long goodbye

Spain made the sharper start with the first minute seeing midfielder Pedri force a diving save from Manuel Neuer who was setting a German record 39th tournament appearance.

That was the fragile Barcelona midfielder’s last positive involvement. Minutes later he was sent tumbling by Kroos who was fortunate to escape a yellow card from English referee Taylor. As it was the knee damage inflicted by the foul forced Pedri’s tearful substitution after only eight minutes, an unwanted Euro finals record.

The action flowed from box to box. At one end a header by German midfielder Emre Can to a right-wing cross from captain Ilkay Gundogan drew a sharp low save from Unai Simon then Neuer was fortunate that no Spanish forward was lurking when a drive from Dani Olmo, Pedri’s substitute, proved too hot to hold.

Breakthrough

Gradually Spanish technique proved superior to German tenacity and it was no surprise when they took the lead shortly after the interval.

Precocious right winger Lamine Yamal created the damage. First he set up Morata who spun Jonathan Tah but shot into the crowd rather than Neuer’s net. No matter, moments later Yamal spied out a space between the German lines into which Olmo slipped to shoot inside Neuer’s right-hand post.

For Germany it was now or never.

Coach Julian Nagelsmann replaced playmaker Gundogan with his favourite substitute, Niklas Fullkrug. Spain struggled to contain him. Fullkrug set up Robert Andrich a for a low drive well stopped by Simon, headed wide, then scooped a Wirtz cross against a post.

Kai Havertz was the next German forward to go close in the 82nd minute when he seized on a poor clearance from Simon only to see his lob clear not only the goalkeeper but the crossbar.

Pressure point

Due reward for such desperate pressure arrived in the 89th minute when Joshua Kimmich headed down and Wirtz stretched out his right leg to shoot beyond Simon’s right hand.

So to extra time.

Wirtz was agonisingly wide in the last minute before the interval and, after it, referee Taylor rejected German penalty claims when a drive from Jamal Musiala was deflected by the left hand of Marc Cucurella.

Germany now looked stronger, the better side, but there was to be no reward for their courage. In the last minute of extra time Real Sociedad’s Merino left Toni Rudiger flat-footed with a perfect ‘free’ header.

Time remained only for Dani Carvajal to be sent off for pulling down Musiala and then it was all over, bitterly and dramatically, for Germany . . . and also, of course, for Kroos.

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