Germany v Spain – dissecting Euro 2024’s two best teams

Jamal Musiala of Germany and Nico Williams of Spain in a composition pictureGetty Images

It is the hosts versus arguably the best performers of Euro 2024 so far as Germany face Spain in a huge quarter-final match at Arena Stuttgart on Friday.

A wave of belief has swept across the home nation, with low expectations before the tournament now growing higher with every German win.

Spain, meanwhile, have been strong from the outset and look the most complete package of those in the last eight.

In many ways, this is a game that would have been a fitting final, but one of the two heavyweights will see their journey come to an end.

Germany captain Ilkay Gundogan summed it up on Thursday, saying: “It speaks for both teams when you say we are the best teams in the tournament. That is why the excitement is so high.

“There is nothing better for a football fan or player to be involved in these kind of games.”

Germany fans cheer on their team in a fan zone

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Prior to the tournament there was a sense from the Germany fans that they would do well to get out of their group.

Just nine months ago they lost 4-1 to Japan, leading to Hansi Flick becoming the first coach to be sacked in German history.

Former Bayern Munich boss Julian Nagelsmann replaced him and managed just one win his first four games.

But a 5-1 thrashing of Scotland in the first game at these Euros lifted the mood of the fans. Results and performances since then have only seen that flourish.

“We see the fan zones in all the cities, the solidarity and the support all over the country,” Nagelsmann said. “We feel that support and it is carrying us.”

Forward Jamal Musiala has been one of the young stars with three goals in four games, but the return of experienced midfielder Toni Kroos to the international scene has arguably been one of Nagelsmann’s significant moves as manager.

Kroos stepped down from international football in 2021 but returned for a swansong at his home tournament and has been a key player.

He spent a decade with Real Madrid before retiring from club football this summer, and his experience of Spanish football could be vital on Friday.

“We now have a different belief,” said Kroos. “We are now winning games or at least not losing games that we were clearly losing in the past.

“We want to go a lot further and in the dressing room we are very convinced we will achieve that.”

Spain the most complete team?

Games between these two sides are often close, with three of their past four ending in a draw.

The one exception to that is a result that could give Spain the psychological edge.

It came in November 2020 in a Nations League match in Seville, with Spain winning 6-0 to inflict on Germany their heaviest defeat.

If not for Germany’s resurgence at this tournament, then the way Spain have been playing may have prompted fears of a repeat.

They have been defensively strong but possess great attacking strength – their tally of nine goals in four games is only bettered by the hosts, who have scored 10.

“Spain are the most complete package,” former England defender Matthew Upson said on BBC Radio 5 live.

“We know how good they are with the ball but how they are out of possession, the way they hunt teams down, tey have a bit of everything. They suffocate opponents.

“If you can’t get the ball off them you are in big trouble. They are the most complete team in the tournament.”

Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams have been their young stars of the tournament.

Yamal, who is just 16, has provided two assists in four games, while 21-year-old Williams has a goal and assist in three games.

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Your Germany and Spain combined XI

Who would make your combined XI of Germany and Spain players at Euro 2024?

‘A fascinating encounter’ – the experts’ view

Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams of Spain celebrate a goal

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Spanish football expert Guillem Balague:

“This will be a fascinating encounter. They are both sides who are very similar. They like to build from the back and have an organiser or two in Gundogan and Kroos for Germany and Rodri and Pedri for Spain.

“They both have similar weaknesses with the full-backs going forward and space being left behind, while the centre-back pairings are not the strongest.

“With Spain we have seen a team who have adapted to anything thrown at them, and they have been improving.

“With Williams and Yamal having a youthful approach to games, they don’t mind if they don’t beat defenders, they just keep going.

“In Yamal they have the player of the tournament who has created the most amount of chances.

“There’s not much to be changed in the line-up. The debate is whether it will be Pedri, who was not great against Georgia, or Dani Olmo, who was sharp when he came on.

“There’s another possibility, sometimes Morata starts on the bench and Olmo starts as a false nine, and that could cause problems for Rudiger and whoever partners him in defence because they prefer to face a player with a fixed position.

“Former Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann said Spain look like an under-18s side because of our size but I think he knows we are a team that will be aggressive in the one-on-ones.”

German football expert Constantin Eckner:

“Belief has grown. There wasn’t much hype going into this in Germany for the tournament and for Germany, but that has grown.

“There was good and bad in the games against Switzerland and Denmark. Against Switzerland if they did not score in injury time then they would not win the group, so there is optimism as well as realism.

“Spain have been the team that has impressed the most so far with the way they have played. Germany have scored the most goals but the Scotland game was an outlier.

“One of the key battles will be Joshua Kimmich against Williams. Williams has been one of Spain’s main creator of chances.

“The other key duel will be Gundogan versus Rodri because Rodri is Spain’s controlling hand. He is such a strong counter-pressing player and that is why he needs to be contained and made to work and get in situations he is maybe not comfortable.

“Then of course Musiala will play against Dani Carvajal. The first two battles I mentioned were how Germany can contain Spain, but this one will be about how Spain can contain Germany.”

What do the statistics suggest?

One statistic that will give Germany encouragement is that Spain have a torrid record against host nations at major tournaments.

They have failed to win such matches in the knockout stages of a European Championship or World Cup in nine previous attempts, dating back to 1934.

But they will be encouraged by their record against Germany.

They are unbeaten in their past six meetings with them and their last match at the Euros was the final in 2008, when Spain won 1-0.

At this tournament it is Germany who come out on top of many of the statistics.

As well as scoring the most goals (10 to Spain’s nine), they have had more possession (62% to 58.5%), and also edge things in terms of passing accuracy (92.2% to 91%).

But Spain’s statistics show them to be the better pressing side, winning the ball back more times than Germany (165 to 161) and attempting more tackles (51 to 45).

Fans anticipating tight battle

Spain fans cheer on their side at a game during Euro 2024

Getty Images

Many fans started arriving in Stuttgart on Thursday evening and, from speaking with supporters from both sides, they were excited and nervous for a game they expected to be closely fought.

“This will be very difficult but at the same time I am optimistic,” said Robin, a Germany fan.

“I am not surprised we have done well. The German team is a good team with a good mix of young players and experience.

“Niclas Fullkrug has been a good option off the bench but Kai Havertz is able to play well with Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz.

“Nico Williams does worry me for Spain but Germany has a strong defence. I have no worries about our defence.”

Spain fan Jeronimo believes it will be the experienced players of both sides who will make the difference.

“This will be the hardest match in the whole of the Euros,” he said.

“I expect Germany will start with a lot of power in the first few minutes but overall it will be quite equal.

“The key players will be the experienced players – Toni Kroos, Rodri, Dani Carvajal and Manuel Neuer. They will allow the young players to play with freedom.

“This is going to be a classic, an unpredictable match, but I think we will get to Berlin for the final.”

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