Spain beat Germany to usher in new era of Barcelona-steered international dominance

Will Ford
Yamal Olmo Spain
Dani Olmo and Lamine Yamal could be starring together for Barcelona as well as Spain in future.

In ten years we may well look back on Euro 2024 as the dawn of a new era of Barcelona-steered Spain dominance in major international tournaments.

The last such era began in 2008, when a Spain team with Xavi and Andres Iniesta at its heart beat Germany thanks to a Fernando Torres goal. Fellow La Masia graduate Sergio Busquets was added to form a midfield triumverate that would go on to win the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, as well as the Champions League in 2009 and 2011 as part of a Barcelona team considered to be among the greatest in history.

Spain dominated in tandem with Barcelona. It was often hard to distinguish between the two. Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique, David Villa, Pedri and Cesc Fabregas also played for both during that period, but the similarity was in the main down to the midfield trio, whose qualities defined the tiki taka style of the two teams. In many ways, Spain was Barcelona and Barcelona was Spain, save for an Argentinian.

Spain are very different now. After 30 minutes Germany had nearly twice the number of passes of Luis de la Fuente’s side, and by half-time Spain had had eight shots, all from outside the box. Tiki taka has made way for speed and dribbling prowess, possession is highly valued but isn’t everything, and rather than passing the ball into the net they look to score by any means necessary.

After the last 16, no player at Euro 2024 had more shot-creating actions per 90 minutes than Pedri (8.04). Lamine Yamal was second (7.16) and Nico Williams tenth (6.15). The three behind Alvaro Morata – a three that could realistically play with each other for Spain for the next decade – are a chance-creating machine.

Pedri and Yamal have been starring for Barcelona having come through the academy. Williams looks destined to join them from Athetic Bilbao despite Marc Cucurella’s best efforts. And it’s also been claimed the La Liga side have a verbal agreement to bring Dani Olmo – who left La Masia as a nine-year-old – back to the club from RB Leipzig. That’s the three starting forwards behind Morata and the guy who came off the bench early on to replace an injured Pedri and open the scoring, who could all be playing for Barcelona and Spain from the start of next season. Those without Spanish affiliations should be concerned.

The goal was simple. Too simple from a Germany perspective, but Yamal and Olmo often make the difficult look easy and this was no different. Yamal ran at David Raum and instead of looking to get past the full-back – which has proved difficult for the teenager up to that point – he played a perfectly weighted pass to the edge of the box, into the path of the onrushing Olmo, who timed his run expertly to sweep the ball into the far corner.

Olmo’s got a habit of arriving in the right place at the right time and while we won’t know how effective Pedri might have been in this game, Spain benefited from Olmo’s early introduction. His influence was as significant as any attacking player on the pitch, up until Niclas Fullkrug replaced Ilkay Gundogan just before the hour mark.

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There was significant clamour for the big lad to start this game, mainly from the raft of former centre-forwards turned pundits who would rather see the ball put in the mixer than watch Kai Havertz do pretty things while linking the play 40 yards from goal. It’s hard to disagree.

Ten of Germany’s 15 shots in normal time came with Fullkrug on the pitch as Spanish defenders roundly sh*t themselves after the Germans were given the excuse to swing crosses into the box whenever they got anywhere near it. The Borussia Dortmund man hit the post from a fine Florian Wirtz cross having outmuscled Nacho, Robert Andrich’s shot was well saved after the striker’s hold-up play and in general he had the effect of forcing Spain deeper and deeper to the point where there were nine of their ten outfield players in the box by the time Florian Wirtz equalised.

Germany wouldn’t have scored without Fullkrug, but he played no part in the goal. Maximilian Mittelstadt’s deep cross was headed down by Kimmich to Wirtz, who struck the ball in off the far post. Wirtz was infinitely more effective than Leroy Sane having replaced the winger at half-time, and Andrich was far superior to Emre Can. We would advise Julian Nagelsmann not to leave players who lost one game for their clubs last season out of the starting lineup in future.

The benefit was they had a very strong and attacking team in extra time, certainly compared to Spain after De la Fuente took both Yamal and Williams off in a bid to hold onto their lead. It looked as though there could be only one winner as Wirtz clipped the post and Fullkrug’s header was expertly saved by Unai Simon with penalties to come. The Germans last lost a shootout in 1976, winning six on the bounce.

But in the last minute of extra time, Dani Carvajal switched the play, Olmo delivered a lovely cross and Mikel Merino hung in the air wonderfully to direct his header beyond Manuel Neuer. There was still time for Fullkrug to head just past the post and for Carvajal to shrug his shoulders after a second yellow card at the end of 130-odd minutes in which Spain showed more grit and determination than quality against a host nation that will feel hard done by.

If Barcelona weren’t convinced by Olmo beforehand they will be now after a goal, an assist and supreme quality besides. He could join Yamal, Pedri and likely Williams in being the stalwarts of both Spain and Barcelona for the foreseeable future, forming a clique that can drive club and country to dominate on all fronts like the legendary La Masia midfield trio they will have grown up watching, but in a very different style.

They may well feel as though they just knocked out their greatest rivals for the trophy, and they’ll take some denying, this summer and in summers to come.