‘Spain were Germany’s role model – now we believe we can beat them’

Thomas Hitzlsperger's BBC Sport column
  • 6 hours ago

Whenever Germany play Spain it feels like a meeting of two footballing superpowers but Friday’s Euro 2024 quarter-final is especially exciting because of how well both teams are playing.

A lot of talk here in Germany has been about this being an early final, between the two best sides in the tournament, and I would agree with that from what I’ve seen.

There is a real belief that we can beat them, too. There is a lot of respect for this Spanish team from our fans and even the Germany players realise they are excellent, but that is balanced by us being the hosts and also by our own performances so far.

In terms of mentality and quality, it feels quite a level contest. I don’t feel either side will fear one another, and it is going to be fascinating to see how the tie plays out.

‘Don’t give Spain the ball’

Finding the right balance will be crucial on the pitch too.

Germany are not a team like Georgia, or some of the other sides Spain have already faced, who only had around 30-40% possession and spent most of the time defending in their own half while looking to hit them on the counter.

If we are going to win, we will need to do more than just defend well. We will have to show our quality in possession and not give the ball away cheaply, because that is exactly what Spain want.

They want the ball, so the less they have it, the better it is for us.

Our players will have to be prepared to do an awful lot of running in and out of possession and they will have to impose themselves physically as well. That might be one of the areas where we can find an advantage and another is at set-pieces.

It may sound old-fashioned but I don’t think we’ve done enough with free-kicks and corners so far at this tournament and, even if we don’t get many on Friday, we have to make the most of them.

In our win over Denmark in the last 16, Nico Schlotterbeck had a few headers and scored one which was disallowed, and I am hoping that is something that we can look for again.

Hard work will be needed on the wings

The way Spain have played in recent years, certainly when I faced them, you normally think about them being a side that keeps possession and keeps the ball in midfield.

Things are slightly different now because their two young wingers, Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams, have added a new element to their team.

Spain are still strong in the middle with Rodri, Fabian Ruiz and Pedri, and they can play the possession game very effectively.

Now, though, you also have to worry about them when they come wide because Yamal and Williams love taking players on and they are very good at it.

Graphic showing Germany's starting XI v Denmark: Neuer, Kimmich, Rudiger, Schlotterbeck, Raum, Andrich, Kroos, Sane, Gundogan, Musiala, Havertz

If, for example, Joshua Kimmich is exposed and left one-on-one with Williams down Germany’s right flank, then it is going to be very tough for him.

So, whoever is in front of Kimmich – whether it is Leroy Sane or Florian Wirtz – they need to try to keep it as two versus one when Spain have the ball, to deny Williams that space.

Do not underestimate Germany

In Spain’s last match, Georgia occasionally managed to escape up the pitch despite the pressure they were under, and Germany must learn from that.

As well as helping Kimmich, Sane or Wirtz will have to do that part too. Jamal Musiala will also be key and, between them, they must make sure that when Germany win the ball back, we don’t lose it immediately when Spain press us.

Spain don’t make many mistakes and it is inevitable they will have chances but if we work hard then I feel like we will have opportunities too.

Georgia showed what can be done and overall I am feeling more optimistic than nervous. If Spain turn up and have their best game then it is going to be hard for us, but I would not underestimate the Germany team either.

This is a completely different scenario to the last time we faced Spain at a European Championship, when they beat us in the final of Euro 2008.

Thomas Hitzlsperger challenges Spain's Fernando Torres during the final of Euro 2008

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I played in that game and we knew beforehand that they probably had more skill than us, but we felt we had the upper hand with our mentality.

Up until that tournament, they had produced some great players and played some good football at times, but they had not won anything for many years.

They really changed that with their amazing run of success between 2008 and 2012 and although this is a new team, they have been brought up on winning things and going all the way.

Two teams with a similar style

Spain celebrate after winning Euro 2008

Getty Images

German football is different now too, however, and in a good way.

That Spain team was actually kind of the role model for how we play now because we want to have possession and, when we lose the ball, we want to win it back.

So, rather than two teams with very different playing styles as it was in my day, Germany and Spain are now quite similar.

Individually, player by player, Spain are possibly a little further along the road than we are, but then Luis de la Fuente has been in charge since December 2022 while for Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann it is only around nine months.

Just because Spain are a little bit of us ahead like that, it does not mean they will automatically go on and win this game, and I don’t think our recent record against them is relevant either.

Germany have not beaten Spain at a major tournament for 36 years, since Euro ’88 when we were also hosts, but this game has nothing to do with those past meetings and as a player you always think that those runs have to end at some point.

I am in the commentary box rather than on the pitch in Stuttgart on Friday but I still feel the same way and I am just hoping it is the day where we make our own bit of history.

Thomas Hitzlsperger was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan in Germany.

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