Last-minute Spanish goal knocks hosts Germany out of Euro 2024 in dramatic finish

Mikel Merino put Spain into the Euro 2024 semi-finals in dramatic fashion on Friday when he scored the winning goal in extra time to beat hosts Germany 2-1 in Stuttgart.

Spain face France in Munich on Tuesday, where Les Bleus beat Portugal 5-3 in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw in Hamburg.

The Spain-Germany match – a contest between the top teams at the European Championship – looked set to go to penalty kicks.

After a largely uneventful first half, the second half saw more openness and attacking action, with Spain taking the lead through Dani Olmo in the 51st minute. A last-minute goal from Germany's Florian Wirtz forced extra time, and after 28 minutes it looked like both teams would need penalty kicks to decide the winner.

Olmo then sent a cross into the box, where Merino headed the ball into the corner of the net.

“It could have been a final, and that's certainly what happened,” Merino told reporters. “It was a game between top teams, back and forth, and we showed we have a great team.”

Germany again had a chance to equalise in stoppage time. Two minutes later, Joshua Kimmich saw his shot from outside the box blocked. A minute later, Nicolas Fulkrug headed the ball wide with a header from close range.

Spain is back in the semi-finals of the European Championship after losing to Italy at that stage of the 2021 competition. The achievement represents a breakthrough for the Iberian nation as it is back in the last four of a major tournament for the first time since 2012, when it won the second of back-to-back European titles during a period when it dominated world football. The team's approach helped inspire Germany's current playing style.

Spain's quality at this year's tournament has revived memories of its past and inspired excitement for its future, driven by dynamic young talent. Where its previous game was characterised by sharp passing and dominant ball possession, Spain has created a more pervasive attacking threat through its speedy wingers.

21-year-old Nico Williams has been one of the most dangerous players in the competition. On the other side is 16-year-old Lemin Yamal, who became the youngest player to compete in a European Championship when he played against Croatia in Spain's first match.

Yamal registered two assists in the group stage, during which Spain were the only team to win all three of their games, beating Croatia, Italy and Albania and conceding no goals. Yamal had another assist on Friday when he delivered the ball into the area before Olmo chipped the ball past German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

The Spanish youngster was the subject of much discussion ahead of Friday's game, perhaps due in part to comments made by former goalkeeper Jens Lehmann to a German television station.

“Technique-wise they may be better than us. But they are small in stature and they don't have experience,” Lehmann told German television station Welt. “They are a kids' team. They have a lot of young players. They don't have much international experience.”

Lehmann may have felt vindicated later in Friday's game as Germany pushed for an equaliser and Wirtz equalised in the 89th minute by heading home Kimmich's header from eight yards. But the Germans faltered in extra time.

Referee Anthony Taylor issued eight yellow cards to Spanish players, seven of which came in the second half or extra time. Spain defender Dani Carvajal was shown his second yellow card of the game and was sent off for blocking a dangerous tackle by Jamal Musiala in stoppage time.

Spain will be without Carvajal and defender Robin Le Normand for Tuesday's semi-final, who was suspended after receiving his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half.

Germany's quarterfinal exit continues their recent string of poor performances. Since reaching the semifinals of Euro 2016, the Germans have failed to reach the last four in every European Championship and World Cup.

“We were so close – that's what makes it so bittersweet,” said Germany midfielder Toni Kroos, who announced his retirement at the end of his team's tournament in May. “To be honest, the main feeling right now is that the tournament is over because we all had a big goal that we wanted to achieve together. And this dream that we all had is now completely shattered.”

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