gtag('config', 'UA-12595121-1'); Merino last-gasp goal sends Spain to Euro 2024 semis after dramatic extra-time win over Germany – The Zimbabwe Mail

Merino last-gasp goal sends Spain to Euro 2024 semis after dramatic extra-time win over Germany

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STUTTGART, Germany — Spain and its fans celebrated as if they’d won the European Championship. After eliminating tournament host Germany in a thrilling quarterfinal, Luis de la Fuente’s team has a great chance to lift the trophy in Berlin next week.

Spain snatched a 2-1 win in extra time on Friday thanks to substitute Mikel Merino’s header in the 119th minute. Merino celebrated by running around the corner flag, mimicking his father Miguel Merino’s celebration after he scored in the same stadium for Osasuna in the UEFA Cup against Stuttgart in 1991.

“I knew that there was very little time left and that it was one of the last attacks we would have,” Merino said. “I didn’t believe that it had gone in until a couple of seconds later. When you get 30 slaps on your back it sinks in real quick.

“I am very happy for me and the entire team. It all comes down to one moment (the goal), but there is so much work behind it, all the training, the hope, the faith, and the belief in ourselves.”

Extra time came only after Florian Wirtz’s equalizer in the last minute of regulation.

Dani Olmo, who set up Merino’s winner, netted the opener early in the second half. All three goals came from substitutes.

Spain defender Dani Carvajal was sent off late in extra time for a second yellow card and will be suspended from Tuesday’s semifinal against France. Fellow defender Robin le Normand will also miss that match after picking up another booking.

Germany players were morose and coach Julian Nagelsmann looked on with his hands on hips and his face etched with disappointment.

“We were so close, that’s what makes it so bitter,” Germany midfielder Toni Kroos said after the final match of his excellent career. The 2014 World Cup winner had said he was retiring when Germany’s campaign ended.

“We all had a big goal that we wanted to achieve together,” Kroos added. “And this dream we all had has been simply shattered now.”

Teammates who might also have played their last international included captain İlkay Gündoğan, Thomas Müller and Manuel Neuer.

Despite the disappointment and the “hurt,” Nagelsmann managed to crack a joke during his news conference: “It’s hurting also that we have to wait two years to become world champion.”

The quarterfinal pitted the Euros’ only three-time champions, the teams who have played the best soccer at Euro 2024, and it didn’t disappoint.

There was a blistering pace from the start with crunching tackles and end-to-end action.

Kroos was lucky not to be booked for a mistimed challenge that upended Spain midfielder Pedri. Another hefty challenge moments later forced Pedri to leave injured and in tears. He was replaced by Olmo in the eighth minute, the fastest replacement in Euros history.

“Pedri is in pain. It deserved a red card,” De la Fuente said. He added it was too early to know if the young Barcelona midfielder would recover by Tuesday.

From the resulting free kick, Lamine Yamal almost became the youngest ever goal-scorer at the tournament but the 16-year-old’s effort flashed past the right post.

Yamal did have a hand in the opener as he cut inside from the right and rolled the ball across for Olmo to hit it first time into the bottom left corner.

It was Yamal’s third assist of the tournament, the most by a teenager at a Euros.

Substitute Nico Füllkrug hit the post in a late desperate onslaught by Germany, which was rewarded just in the nick of time.

Joshua Kimmich nodded Maximilian Mittelstädt’s cross back to Wirtz, whose effort went in off the far post.

The teams had more chances to win in extra time and Germany was incensed in the first period when referee Anthony Taylor didn’t give a penalty after Jamal Musiala’s shot smashed against Marc Cucurella’s hand.

Nagelsmann called for a change in rules for handball so that a penalty would be given if the shot was on target, removing the interpretation of intent.

“There are 50 robots that bring us coffee, so there must be an AI that calculates where the ball will go,” he said.

Just as a shootout was looming, Merino leapt high to head in Olmo’s cross and send the Spanish fans behind the goal into a frenzy.

“They always tell you to enjoy the moment, but when you get to minute 105 it is impossible not to think about the penalties,” Spain goalkeeper Unai Simón said. “And as the minutes ticked down, I couldn’t help but think that (Kai) Havertz, Füllkrug, and Toni were out there. Mikel saved us from a real bind.”

Source: AP