Spain turns red for ´appointment with history´

Excited fans gathered in front of giant outdoor television screens, newspapers ran front pages in the team colour of red and shops planned to close early as Spain was gripped by football fever ahead of the Euro 2008 final Sunday.

“Spain has an appointment with history,” headlined the sports daily AS, hoping La Roja (The Reds) can end decades of disappointment in international competitions and defeat Germany in Vienna.

“Now, we must do it,” said the Catalan daily El Publico, against a background of the red team shirt across the front and back pages.

“Spain has rid iteself of its ghosts and comes to this match at the height its game,” said another sports daily, Marca, which also had a red front page and devoted over 50 pages to Euro 2008 coverage.

Spain's quarter-final win against Italy last week put an end to what was seen as a “curse”, in which they had lost three times on penalties in the quarter-finals of major competitions. In Thursday's semi-final, they demolished Russia 3-0.

But few doubt that Germany will be a far more dangerous opponent.

“The Germans are not a subtle team, but they are not a bunch of robots either,” warned Marca.

Across the country, local authorities have set up giant television screens in public squares to allow fans to watch the match. Many towns were also decked out in red.

In Madrid's vast Plaza Colon early Sunday, dozens of supporters, all wearing the team colours and many wrapped in the red and yellow national flag, had already reserved the best spots to view the match.

Ivan, 19, said he had come from Barcelona with several friends just to soak up the atmosphere in Madrid.

“I want to see it here, in the capital,” he said, predicting a 1-0 win for Spain, but expressed alarm when asked if it could go to a shootout. “Oh no, we don't like penalties!” he said.

Others will gather in bars and at home, with the television audience predicted to surpass the record of 17 million, or an 84 percent market share, set during the semi-final against Russia.

The country's major department store, El Corte Ingles, many branches of which are open until 10:00 pm even on a Sunday, planned to close early, fearing a dearth of customers and to allow its staff to watch the match, Marca said.

Hundreds of police were also deployed in the capital, where the celebrations on Thursday paralyzed traffic in the city centre.

Travel agencies reported that packages to Vienna, including a flight and tickets to the match for between 1,200 and 1,500 euros (2,360 dollars), were sold out within hours on Friday.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 Spaniards are expected in Vienna for the match, including King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Zapatero's office confirmed he would be attending the match despite an Internet campaign and calls from some newspaper columnists that he stay away on the grounds that he would bring the squad bad luck.

Spain last lifted the European Cup in 1964 with final victory over the former USSR in what was their only triumph at a major tournament to date. The country last reached the Euro final in 1984 when they lost to France.

While Germany were given the better odds of winning the tournament before it began, Spain's style of play — with lots of short, one-touch passes, almost always on the ground — produced a clean sweep of wins in the group stage.

Sun 29 Jun, 2008
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Football-crazy Germans warm up for Euro final

Germans were unfurling their flags and applying the black, red and gold face-paints on Sunday morning as football fever approached its climax for the team's Euro 2008 final against Spain.

From Chancellor Angela Merkel downwards, Germans will be cheering on “Schweini”, “Poldi” and their teammates in a nation now much more comfortable with being patriotic ever since the 2006 World Cup was held on home soil.

In towns and cities across the country, hundreds of thousands were expected at public viewing areas to watch the match beamed in from Vienna from 1845 GMT onto huge screens and tens of millions will be glued to their TVs at home.

More than 400,000 people watched the last game in the specially erected “Fan Mile” around the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin alone, and the atmosphere will be more electric still on Sunday if Joachim Loew's team triumphs.

Even German automakers like Daimler, Volkswagen and Audi plan to shut down production during the game so that their workers can follow the match before the conveyor belts grind back into action after the final whistle.

Merkel herself, who was shown literally jumping for joy in Basel when the winning goal against Turkey hit the back of the net on Wednesday, will watch the match in Vienna along with President Horst Koehler and other ministers.

Merkel became a regular in the stands during the World Cup. She has even taken to giving the players some motherly advice, and after the Turkey match gave an interview in the flash zone area usually reserved for players and managers.

Her spokesman had to keep the chancellor informed by text message of the score in the game against Portugal while she was tied up with more serious matters at an EU summit on June 19.

A parade has been organised in central Berlin for Monday for the players — even if they lose — and the city authorities have asked schools to give pupils the afternoon off so they can attend.

“It is very important for us that the team will be greeted by its supporters back in Germany. Berlin has become like a second home to us since the 2006 World Cup,” trainer Loew said.

Only one in five German televisions were tuned into something else as almost 30 million viewers were glued to Wednesday's semi-final thriller against Turkey, and Sunday's final was not expected to be any less of a crowd-puller.

Even Germany's most popular TV programme, the family entertainment show “Wetten, dass…?” (“You want a bet?”), only attracts a market share of 30 or 40 percent, said Thomas Hagerdorn, spokesman for public broadcaster ZDF.

The offers attempting to tempt TV viewers away from the football include the Rowan Atkinson comedy “Johnny English” — dubbed into German — and a programme about real-life animal capers in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia,

And as always there is a “Schlager” show, that perennial prime-time instititution devoted to swingalong oompah songs about falling in love, mountains and lederhosen.

“I am sure that our team is going to succeed,” President Koehler said in a column in the top-selling Bild newspaper on Sunday. “Our opponent is strong … but with the fire in their bellies the German team can beat them.”

Sun 29 Jun, 2008
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Toughened-up Spain look to seal Euro deal against the Germans

Spain will head into Sunday's Euro 2008 final against Germany here confident that they have overcome the mental fragility that has so often dogged them in the past.

Footballing failures – following quickly on from the bounding hope that preceded them – had become so synonymous with the Spanish national team that the phrase 'perennial underachievers' became an almost permanent prefix to the word 'Spain'.

Before this tournament it had been 24 years since Spain progressed beyond the quarter-finals of a competition and yet they banished that hoodoo with a nervy penalty shoot-out victory over world champions Italy in the last eight here in Vienna.

After a slightly cagey first half against Russia, Spain opened up after the break to let their football flow and they are finally looking like the team they have always threatened to be.

Now their footballing redemption would be complete if they can take that final step and beat a team that has always been the virtual antithesis of the Spaniards.

While Spain have often flattered to deceive at big tournaments, Germany frequently scrap and bully their way further than they seem to merit, such as in 2002 when one of the worst German teams in living memory reached the World Cup final.

Even so, a little shiver went through the German ranks on Saturday evening amid the news that skipper Michael Ballack is rated as doubtful after straining his right calf in training, forcing him to have treatment at the team hotel.

Team manager Oliver Bierhoff told reporters that “we'll do all we can to ensure Ballack can play.”

Although Spain may be shedding their unwanted tag, Germany show no signs of parting from their traditions.

While it is true to say they played well in their opening match against Poland, since then they have been clearly second best against both Croatia and Turkey, then outplayed Portugal thanks to a brilliant strategy devised by coach Joachim Loew which saw him outthink Luiz Felipe Scolari and were uninspiring against Austria.

And yet, as they often do, they will line up in the final with only a brave man betting against them.

But Spain coach Luis Aragones believes that his team have now developed the mental strength to make their superior ball skills tell against the Germans, insisting that they have learnt from their World Cup disappointment of two years ago when France beat them in the second round.

“This team has been strong mentally for a long time. We played in the World Cup and that's where we learnt a lot about being strong,” said the 69-year-old.

“I've always told my team that to play good football they need to compete and they need to learn the hard way but they are learning all the time.

“Players like Cesc (Fabregas) is 21 and we have other players aged 21, 22, 23 and yet they have the experience of 28-year-olds.”

Germany defender Christophe Metzelder is not so sure Spain have completely overcome the demons of their past, though, and he should know as he plays for Real Madrid.

“I know the Spanish have real respect for us, but there is a self-inflicted trauma in the team, it has taken them decades to move beyond the quarter-final of a tournament and that could be a factor,” he said.

“They will respect that, but this is a big game and big games have a different set of laws.”

And Aragones is wary about the Germans, insisting that it won't be easy repeating their performance against Russia.

“I don't know whether they (Germany) will let us play that way. If they know where to put pressure on us and how to hurt us they may not allow us to play that way again.

“But it's very hard for a team to stop us when we move the ball around quickly, they get tired.”

It's not just Spain concentrating on the mental aspect of this game, though, as Bierhoff, who scored the winning goal the last time his country won a title, with a golden goal in the 1996 European Championships, said his team also need to overcome certain obstacles.

“The players need to approach the final in a positive mental state without fear,” said Bierhoff.

“Against Croatia, Turkey and Austria, the players were nervous and almost cramped up through fear of losing to a so-called 'minor nation'.

“Hopefully they can now be liberated against Spain and play the way we know they can.”

Spain are likely to switch from the 4-4-2 system they have used so effectively until now as striker David Villa is out of the final.

That means they may go for the five-man midfield that worked so well against Russia when Villa came off to be replaced by midfielder Fabregas.

Sun 29 Jun, 2008
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Comparing Wayne Rooney to the best in Europe makes this England fan very sad.

Four years ago, Wayne Rooney burst onto the world stage by starring for England in the 2004 European Championships. Many people in England, maybe optimistically, think that we would have gone on to win that tournament if Rooney hadn’t been injured in the penalty shoot-out defeat to Portugal.

At that time, I was convinced that Rooney was going to become one of the best players in the world. I was certain that he was going to be England’s best player for a very long time indeed. Watching Euro 2008 I have been wondering whether he would have stood out in this tournament if he had been there and whether he has come anywhere near the hype and hope that surrounded him four years ago.

We all know that Rooney came to fame by becoming the youngest ever Premier League scorer back in 2002 a few days short of his seventeenth birthday. He then left Everton for Manchester United whilst still only eighteen for a fee that was believed to reach almost thirty million pounds, making him the most expensive ever teenager.

At United he has established himself as a first team regular and won the Carling Cup, the Premier League twice and the Champions League. As recently as 2005 he was named as the FIFPro World young player of the year.

He has played forty-three times for England and is still only twenty-two years old. All in all, it is a spectacular record for one so young. What is it then that makes me think he has fallen behind others in the world and has never quite hit the heights that all in England hoped he would?

Well, his scoring record is good without being spectacular. For England he has managed fourteen goals in those forty-three appearances. For Everton he scored seventeen in seventy-seven starts and for United he has netted seventy-seven times in one hundred and eighty nine games. That’s one hundred and eight goals in three hundred and nine games, just over one goal every three games. A very acceptable return, but not a great one.

We all also know about Rooney’s temperament problems. He has been lambasted by the press for his regular foul mouthed loutish abuse of referees, rightly so, and he still clearly sees red when things are going against him. When he mis-contols the ball or gets tackled and chases after the opposition player who has taken it off him, the whole ground closes their eyes and holds their breath waiting for the uncontrolled studs up lunge that is likely to follow.

Despite that, he is one of the few English players who can dominate a match and create something out of nothing. He has fabulous vision, great movement, an exceptional eye for a pass and a sweet strike. He really is a very good player. I just don’t think he has yet become a great.

The Euros have made me look at the top nations and ask whether they would swap what they have for Wayne Rooney. Tonight’s finalists for example. Would Rooney be selected ahead of David Villa or Fernando Torres, or Miroslav Klose or Lucas Podolski?

Arshavin, Van Nistelrooy, Nihat, Toni and Benzema would all fancy their chances of keeping their place in the side if Rooney came from their country. I think Wayne would get a run out for Portugal or Croatia (if Eduardo was unfit) but I can’t think of too many other top nations for whom he would be an automatic choice.

Even at Manchester United, of the forward players available to them last season was he more or as important as Cristiano Ronaldo or Carlos Tevez?

I don’t want this article to be seen as a criticism of Wayne Rooney as I repeat again that I think he is a very fine player. What I am saying, sadly, is that this debate has made me realise just how far English football has fallen. Our bright star, one of our only truly world class players is actually not the envy of too many others.

A look back over the years at ‘great’ English forward players produces names like Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham, Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley. These players never actually won anything with England but they were envied by other countries. At least that gave us some comfort in our constant disappointment.

The current tournament has given absolutely no comfort to this England supporter as I think it has confirmed the gap between England and the best of Europe is wider than it has been for many, many years, if not ever.

Maybe Wayne Rooney will be the one scoring forty-two goals next season and leading us to the next world cup with genuine hopes and dreams of success. I’ll not hold my breath.

Sun 29 Jun, 2008
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Another final – but still no Mullers on German horizon

Once more, Germany are in the final of a European Championship, their sixth.

Yet despite the country's impeccable record there is one piece of the jigsaw which Die Mannschaft has been trying in vain to fit for more than 30 years.

A true, dyed-in-the-wool number nine who can call himself the new Gerd Muller.

With 10 goals in five games the German strikeforce, ably backed up by midfielders Michael Ballack and Bastian Schweinsteiger, are hardly impotent – yet comprises, in Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, two men who hail from the Silesia region of Poland.

The pair's credentials are not in question as they have now scored 69 international goals between them.

That's just one more than 'Der Bomber' netted – in only 62 outings – for the Germans in an international career stretching from 1966 to 1974, culminating in a World Cup final win over Holland.

Yet since his day, despite their regular strong showings at major events the Germans have never quite managed to unearth the New Muller, the hitman in a Bayern Munich side which dominated the European game in the mid-1970s.

Since he left the scene, Rudi Voller, Jurgen Klinsmann, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uwe Seeler – and now Klose – have managed to break the 40-goal barrier.

Yet not one of today's generation of forwards clad in the famous white shirt at Euro 2008 is actually German.

Aside from Podolski's and Klose's strong links to Poland, in reserve are Brazilian-born Kevin Kuranyi and half-Spanish Mario Gomez, whose father is Spanish-born, as well as Swiss-born Oliver Neuville.

Coach Joachim Loew has not let the nationality issue bother him.

“With Klose, Kuranyi, Podolski, Gomez and Neuville we are blessed with strikers of incredible quality who can score in all kinds of situations,” Loew said going into the tournament.

Yet however German or not the current forwards, none is a throwback to a glorious past, when number nines from Helmuth Rahn, nicknamed “The Boss” and a star of the 1954 World Cup win, to barrel-chested Horst Hrubesch, match-winner in the 1980 Euro final, ruled the roost.

Since then the domestic production line has seemingly ground to a halt – hence the move to cast the net further afield as far as Brazil for the likes of Kuranyi and previously Paulo Roberto Rink and Ghana's Gerald Asamoah – the first black African player to make the German squad.

Had Loew been able to name a larger squad he might have gone for Borussia Moenchengladbach striker Marko Marin – but he is Bosnian-born.

And of course Loew was unable to contemplate calling up the Bundesliga top scorer given that Bayern's Luca Toni is Italian – though he drew a blank at the Euros anyway.

Whatever the merits of Klose and Podolski this German team has made it to the final with an average of only 4.6 shots on goal per game – an indicator of German efficiency if ever there was one, given their 0.5 shots to goals ratio.

Perhaps the burden of history lies lighter on the shoulders of the Polish-born pair, whose commitment to Germany is not in the slightest doubt given their goal hauls to date.

The first man who tried to be the new Gerd Muller was Klaus Toppmoller, who as a coach in 2002 – with Ballack in his side – would lead Bayern Leverkusen to a 'treble' of runner-up finishes in league, Cup and Champions League.

He soon fell by the wayside as a player, winning only three caps.

“Toppmoller will never be a Topp-Muller,” was the cutting comment which summed up the stunted international career of young Klaus, despite Muller himself saying after a league match in which Toppmoller scored a hattrick against Bayern: “He's my successor.”

Three decades on, nobody has assumed the Muller mantle. But in the modern game goalscoring has increasingly become the prerogative of the midfielder – witness the importance of Ballack and Schweinsteiger.

Both of them are as German as the Munich beer festival.

But he will happily drink to the health of Germany's “foreign” forwards if one of the latter scores the winner against Spain on Sunday.

Sun 29 Jun, 2008
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Spain´s Cesc to start final against Germany: Aragones

Spain coach Luis Aragones has hinted that Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas will start during his side's Euro 2008 final against Germany on Sunday night in Vienna.

In comments broadcast on private television Cuatro, he said his starting line-up for the match would be the same as the squad that beat Russia 3-0 in the semi-finals on Thursday when Fabregas replaced an injured David Villa.

Asked if Spain were the favourites against Germany, Aragones said: “I think so, Spain is better than Germany.”

It will be Fabregas' first start of the tournament. Aragones has up until now used 21-year-old as a second-half subsititute.

Fabregas scored the winning penalty in Spain's quarter-final 4-2 shootout victory over world champions Italy and he set up two of Spain's goals in its win over Russia.

Spain last lifted the European Cup in 1964 with final victory over the former USSR in what was their only triumph at a major tournament to date. The country last reached the Euro final in 1984 when it lost to France.

Sun 29 Jun, 2008
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On eve of Euro final Aragones criticises Spanish Federation

Spain coach Luis Aragones criticised his employers on the eve of Sunday's Euro 2008 final for not sounding him out about a new contract.

Aragones is leaving the post he's held since 2004 having got Spain to their first major final in 24 years to return to club football with Turkish side Fenerbahce.

But the 69-year-old made it clear here Saturday that if it had been left up to him he might have stayed on to build on his success here and guide the team to the 2010 World Cup.

Without mentioning the Spanish Football Federation by name he told the eve of final press conference: “I'm standing down because nobody asked me anything. So I decided to go and there's no turning back.

“I don't want it to be used that I wanted to go.”

He added: “I've had four years defending my country, and to stop defending my country will bring some nostalgia but I'll still work in football because I have to work.”

Turning to Spain's chance of winning their first title in 1964 he then evoked the oldest and perhaps truest maxim in sport.

“I've spoken to my players and told them everyone forgets the second-placed team. No one talks about 'nearly champions', but tomorrow we have a difficult rival – it's no more or no less than Germany.”

Aragones said he may be forced to switch tactics in the absence of injured striker David Villa.

“Villa's absence has an influence. We'll be less able of getting into their penalty area but on the other hand it will make us stronger in midfield.

“I haven't decided anything yet, perhaps I'll use two strikers…”

Comparing the strengths of Sunday's two Vienna finalists Aragones, who is attributed with producing one of the finest Spanish sides in many a year, remarked: “Germany are very strong physically and in dead ball situations.

“They're taller and stronger dealing with high balls – that's where we're going to suffer a bit – perhaps I should by a ladder for my players!

“I'm sure Germany though are concerned that the football we play on the ground will create problems for them too.”

One of the characteristics of this Spanish team is their powerful sense of unity prompting La Furia Roja's manager to observe: “You can have great teams and great players but without a good atmosphere in the group you can't win.

“It's helped us to be successful and get to the final.

“What have I done to help this? I try to make all the players feel equal, those on the pitch and those on the bench. The other important thing is that the team should get and understand what I say too them – it's as important what I say as the way they understand it.”

Sat 28 Jun, 2008
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We´ll beat Spain with or without Ballack, says Loew

Germany coach Joachim Loew says he expects his side to beat Spain in Sunday night's Euro 2008 final in Vienna with or without their injured captain Michael Ballack.

The Chelsea midfielder is facing a desperate race against time to make the kick off at Vienna's Ernst Happel Stadium having damaged his right calf muscle in Germany's final training session on Friday.

Having scored two goals so far at Euro 2008, Ballack played a key role in helping his side reach the final, but Loew says his side can beat Spain who ever takes to the field.

He said: “I expect a win, of course, it's been a long, hard road and the tournament has taken up a lot of strength. But we will mobilise all our forces for the match to bring the trophy back to Germany.

“The Spaniards have been the most constant team here. They have shown consistent levels of performance, they are flexible regarding their positioning and they are sure of the passes they make.

“A lot of their players play in the Champions League, they are used to playing under intense pressure.”

After Spain hammered Russia 3-0 in Thursday night's semi-final, while Germany had to come from behind to beat Turkey 3-2 to make the final, midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger said his side must improve.

“We have to improve a lot of areas, we have to close Spain down early, because the worst thing you can do is let them have time on the ball,” said the former Aston Villa midfielder.

“We have to do that from the first minute and, if we do, we have a good chance of winning the game.”

With Ballack rated as 50-50 at best, Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinsteiger or Werder Bremen's Tim Borowski may slot into the attacking midfielder role from where their captain has scored two goals so far at Euro 2008.

Although the team flew to Vienna on Saturday afternoon for Sunday's final at the Ernst Happel Stadium, Ballack stayed behind at the team hotel for treatment and a decision on whether he plays will be taken in the count-down to kick-off.

Sat 28 Jun, 2008
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Spain intent on breaking “horrible statistic” says Casillas

Captain Iker Casillas says Spain will take to the field against Germany in Sunday's Euro 2008 final with only one objective in mind — to end their 44-year title famine.

“We have the chance to break this horrible statistic for Spain, we haven't won an international title for a long time (since Euro 64).

“We went close 24 years ago (when losing in the 1984 final to France) but didn't succeed. Now we're in this final and winning it is important,” he said here Saturday.

The Real Madrid keeper, speaking at the pre-match press conference at the Ernst Happel stadium, says he'll be dreaming of lifting the trophy on Sunday night.

“To dream is free! But only one captain can lift the Cup, let's hope that's me.”

Casillas put Spain's impressive run to their date with Germany and destiny down in part to their decision to shun the bright lights and set up their Euro base camp in Neustift, a Tyrolian town of 4,000 inhabitants.

“This little village where we were based gave us such a warm welcome, we felt so at home. It was a different way of preparing for the final, all the villagers were with us and part of our succss might be due to the fact that we stayed there.”

Another factor he suggested as why it's Spain and not France or Italy or Portugal confronting the Germans was a generational thing.

“Other teams are now feeling a generational change. After the 2006 World Cup we changed the group and brought in younger players with more of a future ahead of them.”

Casillas knows that in Germany La Furia Roja face a team that specialises in saving its best for the big games, and they don't come much bigger than a European final.

“They're veterans, they always get to the semi-finals or finals. History shows they get beyond the quarter-final barrier, whereas Spain get stuck there.”

Casillas like many of his teammates is used to the pressure a final brings at club level, but he insisted that a final on the international stage was a totally different and altogether more daunting proposition.

“Given this tournament is held only every four years and that you come up against national teams it's difficult to reach the final.

“That gives you added pressure, you're more nervous, you feel responsible for your colleagues and 44 million people!”

For his Sao Paulo-born teammate Marcos Senna the final offers him the chance to become the first Brazilian to lift a European title.

And appearing alongside Casillas here Senna observed: “For me I feel proud to be part of this Spanish team and get into the history books.

“I feel privileged being Spanish and Brazilian. For now I'm only thinking about being Spainsh, I'll have plenty of time to think about Brazil later.”

For teammate Carlos Puyol, coach Luis Aragones has played a huge role in getting Spain this far.

“He's shown us the way, and we're all with him. We've lived some difficult moments, he's been criticised, but that's only helped to strengthen us.

“We've got one game left and if we win we'll be happy for the coach, he deserves it.”

Sat 28 Jun, 2008
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Spain swept by Euro 2008 fever as final nears

Spain was swept up in football fever Saturday one day ahead of its national team's Euro 2008 final against Germany in Vienna which fans were confident would lead to its first major title in over 40 years.

From Valencia to Valladolid, town halls across the country were setting up giant television screens in public squares to allow supporters to gather and watch the match while stores reported dwindling stocks of red and white Spanish flags and jerseys.

The only exceptions were Barcelona and Bilbao in separatist-minded Catalonia and the Basque Country where local officials as of Saturday had no plans to set up screens due to regional sensitivities, daily newspaper El Mundo reported.

Travel agencies on Friday sold out within hours packages including a flight and tickets to the matches for between 1,200 and 1,500 euros (2,360 dollars).

Between 15,000 and 20,000 Spaniards are expected in Vienna for the match, including King Juan Carlos and his wife Queen Sofia and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The kings predicted Spain will beat Germany 2-1 while Zapatero even forecast a 3-1 result in his side's favour, Spanish media reported.

Zapatero's office confirmed he would be attending the match despite an Internet campaign and calls from some newspaper columnists that he stay away on the grounds that he would bring the squad bad luck.

Spain's royal couple was present in Vienna when the team beat world champions Italy 4-2 on penalties in the quarter-final while Crown Prince Felipe and his wife, Princess Letizia, attended Spain's 3-0 win over Russia on Thursday that sent it to the final.

Television audience figures in Spain for the semi-final win over Russia touched a record 17 million or an 84 percent market share.

Newspapers devoted pages to the tournament, call-in radio talk shows focused on the upcoming talk match while television chat shows which normally deal with the lives of celebrities interviewed players' grandparents and girlfriends.

“We are going to win,” Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas told sports daily Marca in a quote that was plastered on its front page.

Spain last lifted the European Cup in 1964 with final victory over the former USSR in what was their only triumph at a major tournament to date. The country last reached the Euro final in 1984 when it lost to France.

UEFA boss Michel Platini, part of the French squad that beat Spain in the Euro 1984 final, will award the trophy to the winning team's captain and Spanish sports daily Marca predicted “he will give us the trophy that he stole from us.”

While Germany were given the better odds of winning the tournament before it began, Spain's style of play — with lots of short, one-touch passes, almost always on the ground — produced a clean sweep of wins in the group stage.

Sat 28 Jun, 2008
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