Wednesday, 17 July 2024.

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Merino header breaks German hearts and sends Spain into Euro semis

Mikel Merino’s header late in extra time sent Spain into the Euro 2024 semi-finals and eliminated hosts Germany after tight a 2-1 win on Friday.

In the battle between the record three-times champions, Spain took the lead on 51 minutes when Dani Olmo converted a clever assist from 16-year-old Yamine Lamal.

Germany pushed hard for a leveller, which looked like it would not come when Niclas Füllkrug struck the post, but fellow substitute Florian Wirtz thrashed home off the post on 89 minutes.

The game went to extra time and seemed to be drifting towards penalties – with Germany having a spot kick shout turned down – before Merino netted with a looping header on 119 minutes from Olmo’s cross. Olmo plays for Germany’s RB Leipzig while Merino used to play for Borussia Dortmund.

Merino told La1: “It was a unique moment. We…were doing a great job and for them to equalize in the 90th minute was a blow, but it’s a prize for perseverance and I think we deserve it.”

The late drama means Toni Kroos’ football career comes to an end with a painful defeat while Manuel Neuer could now quit internationals.

Kroos told ARD: “We were very close and so it is therefore even more bitter. Exiting from the tournament is outweighing (personal feelings). Our dream is destroyed.”

Germany deserved more after missing several chances, but they go out of their home tournament after showing so much promise at the start.

Spain, winners in 1964, 2008 and 2012, head into Tuesday’s semi-final in Munich against twice winners France, who defeated 2016 champions Portugal 5-3 on penalties.

Germany’s men have now not reached the last four of a major tournament since losing to France in the Euro 2016 semis, while Spain matched their feat in making the semis at the Euros three years ago.

Spain coach Luis de la Fuente said: “My players are insatiable. I’m proud to coach players like this.”

Germany make changes, Pedri out early

Home coach Julian Nagelsmann picked “quicker” defensive midfielder Emre Can, not even in the original squad, in place of Robert Andrich in the starting line-up while centre back Jonathan Tah returned from suspension and Leroy Sané stayed in ahead of Wirtz.

Spain’s starting XI was unchanged as arguably the two best teams so far clashed. Spain had won all four games leading into the game and Germany three, with one draw.

Pedri had the first chance and forced Neuer into a smart save.

But the 21-year-old had to come off after only seven minutes following a robust challenge from Kroos and was replaced by Olmo. Reports say Pedri’s tournament is over with a knee strain.

Kroos was lucky to avoid a booking on this and other early occasions before eventually being carded as Spain bossed the opening quarter.

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Germany nudged their way back into it but Kai Havertz headed straight at Unai Simon and scuffed another decent chance.

The game then became surprisingly scrappy and after Havertz lost possession, Olmo tested Neuer as the first half came to a close.

Spain centre back Nacho replaced Robin Le Normand at the break while Andrich – now with pink hair – and Wirtz came on for Can and Sané.

Alvaro Morata soon fired over for Spain after a neat pass from Yamal. The hosts had been warned but soon after, Yamal was again given too much time and he picked out Olmo, who scored with a first-time shot.

Nagelsmann’s side responded with immediate pressure on Simon’s goal. He was bold with his substitutes, sending on striker Füllkrug for midfield captain İlkay Gündoğan as well as swapping left backs.

Füllkrug headed twice off target before hitting the post with a sliding effort. Havertz’s later chip was just too high.

Thomas Müller was even thrown on with 10 minutes to go, as Spain took a risk by taking off their whole front three.

That move looked to have back-fired as left back Mittelstädt’s cross was superbly headed back by Joshua Kimmich and Wirtz levelled.

Müller could even have won it in normal time but the clash went on.

Spain not at their best, but Germany left heartbroken

Extra time started more cagey, before Spain substitute Mikel Oyarzabal and Wirtz had good opportunities when they rifled wide.

Germany also had a penalty appeal for handball by Marc Cucurella turned down after the Spain man was deemed not to have his hand in an unnatural position, before Simon saved well from a Füllkrug header.

Then out of the blue Merino popped up unmarked in the box and Neuer could do nothing. There was even time for one last Germany push, with Dani Carvajal rugby tackling Jamal Musiala for a second yellow which rules him out of the semis.

Germany’s play merited at least penalties, but it was not to be.

Playmaker Musiala was unusually quiet and ultimately Spain did not have to play at their best to win.

Nagelsmann said: “Every player, whether they started or were on the bench, gave everything they had to win the game. It’s a painful one.”

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