Disappointment in Germany at losing the Euro 2008 final gave way Monday to admiration for the superior Spanish side and hope that coach Joachim Loew can raise the team's performance for the 2010 World Cup.
Germany, just like Ballack, is trying to put on a brave face as it looks toward the future
German media, commentators and even the coach were unanimous on Monday, June 30, that technically superior Spain richly deserved the Euro 2008 title and that their style of play showed Germany still has a long way to go.
"I think we have to recognize the greater quality of the Spanish team today," Germany coach Joachim Loew said after his side lost 1-0 to Spain. "It (the defeat) will encourage us to continue working over the next two years and to improve some things...in order to get to the 2010 World Cup and to play a similar role here."
"Possession and one-touch passes are the key in soccer, and that at high speed and under stress. Spain showed that it masters it very well," Loew said.
"The best team won"
German newspapers too were full of praise for Spain, saying the side outclassed the Germans on every count.
"The artists from Spain wouldn't let themselves be bullied around," Munich-based Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote. "After a strong start Germany lost their way."
There was no stopping Fernando Torres as he scored in the 33rd minute
"Title dreams dashed," the Hamburger Morgenpost wrote. "After 60 minutes of sleep-inducing football and lots of defensive problems the team came to life too late. Thanks to Lehmann because it could have been worse."
Germany's most popular television soccer analyst, Guenter Netzer said in the end the best team won on Sunday.
"Congratulations to Spain but also I tip my hat in respect to Germany for even reaching the final," Netzer, who helped West Germany win the European crown in 1972, said.
"That's a great success for the team. Spain were the best team throughout the tournament. They played the best football," he said. "They showed us how limited we are, they showed us how to play soccer. Spain showed we have a lot of room to improve."
Germans started well, with Miroslav Klose missing a glorious opportunity after just four minutes, but then Spain soon started to take control and on 33 minutes Torres put Spain ahead.
Germany had their chances in the second half but Spain remained dangerous and held their nerve to win the championship 1-0.
One mistake too many
Germany had come to Euro 2008 with lots of ambitions but failed to make a lasting impression apart from a classy 3-2 against Portugal in the quarter-finals.
The team was outwitted in a 2-1 defeat against Croatia and outplayed for most of the match in the semi-final with Turkey where only the famed fighting spirit earned them a 3-2 win.
Captain Michael Ballack scored two goals but was unable to stamp his authority on the team as he finished runner-up for the 10th time in his career. And there were only flashes of genius from the likes of Lukas Podolski or Bastian Schweinsteiger.
"It is always disappointing to reach and final and then lose," Ballack said on Sunday, adding that the team "made one or two errors too many."
Ballack, left, and Spain's Marco Senna fight for the ball
On Sunday, the Germans fumbled once too often with the ball, their play marked by flawed passes and defense lapses -- a weakness ruthlessly exploited by their technically superior opponents.
Midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger too said his side's inaccuracy proved their undoing.
"When you make mistakes at this level you get punished. The Spanish side are so good, so you can't afford to make any mistakes," Hitzlsperger said. "We made too many that is why we lost."
The defeat led to disappointment for millions of German fans raring to celebrate their side's triumph on Sunday night. Fernando Torres' 33rd-minute winner silenced the more than 600,000 fans who crowded into the public viewing area near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
Spain's complete domination from midway in the second half onwards until the final whistle was greeted with admiration.
The final whistle resulted in no trouble as police in Berlin and elsewhere said the fans left without incident.
Germany's Euro party ended with a whimper on Sunday
Many fans even left before the final whistle, subdued or to beat the crowd on the way home as there was nothing to celebrate when the Henri Delaunay trophy was eventually given to Spain captain Iker Casillas and not Ballack.
Apart from the more than 600,000 in Berlin, 70,000 fans watched the game in Munich, Frankfurt recorded 50,000 fans and Hamburg 42,000.
Despite the disappointment, hundreds of thousands of fans are set to turn up in Berlin once again on Monday when the team presents itself at the fan zone - empty-handed just like after the 2006 World Cup third-place finish.
Uphill battle for Loew
Coach Loew now has his work cut out as he looks to preparing the team for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Loew's ideal is a fast game similar to that of Spain, the Netherlands or Russia, but he faces an uphill battle because change must also come from an overly-hyped Bundesliga.
The showings of German clubs in Europe highlights the problem, with Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich blown away by Andrei Arshavin and his UEFA Cup-winning Zenit St Petersburg teammates.
Germany last won a European title from Bayern Munich in 2001 and has not had a team in a continental final since 2002. Munich has shown some class and a new trend in the league could start there as well now that former national coach Juergen Klinsmann starts his job as Munich coach.
Klinsmann revolutionized the Germany team during his reign 2004-2006 and his assistant Loew is now continuing his legacy as boss.
Loew faces challenges as he looks towards the 2010 World Cup
"Jogi Loew should continue his way," German soccer icon Franz Beckenbauer wrote in his Monday column for the Bild daily.
Apart from goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, whose future is unclear, Loew has a core of a team which has now played two major events, some like Ballack and defender Christoph Metzelder even featuring in the 2002 World Cup final.
Podolski and Schweinsteiger will only be in their mid-20s by the time of the 2010 World Cup, and newcomers who weren't quite good enough to make the Euro squad - such as Marko Marin, Jermaine Jones and Patrick Helmes - could by then be regulars.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was in the stadium for the final said the team was gradually building on its play.
"Third at the World Cup and now second, that is something. Maybe we will improve again in South Africa," Merkel said. "I told Ballack that we have to wait a little longer until we can celebrate together, but that we are slowly getting there."
Loew and his boys will have two excellent opportunities to check on any possible improvement -- on October 11 and almost a year later on October 10, 2009, in the two World Cup qualifying matches against Russia.