Well into the small hours of Monday morning, the packed Mixed Zone in the bowels of the Ernst-Happel Stadion in Vienna resonated to the rhythms and dances of Spain and her heroes, ecstatically celebrating a first European championship crown in 44 years. A different vibe emanated from the defeated Germany camp, where Christoph Metzelder took centre stage. The towering Real Madrid defender, who had faithfully pursued his policy of letting his beard grow during major tournaments, left the dressing room a clean-shaved man.

Just a couple of hours after Spain's fully merited win in the UEFA EURO 2008 final, and with his smart and elegant appearance restored, the 27-year-old was in typically defiant mood, as if to say, 'Forget it and move on!'. German dreams of a fourth continental crown crumbled in the face of Spain's dizzying technique, producing an outcome which left no room for debate.

We were third in 2006, we've just come second, and we'd like to maintain the sequence two years from now
Germany star Bastian Schweinsteiger outlines his plans for South Africa 2010

Luis Aragones' star-studded line-up dominated the final in the Austrian capital with yet another display of the champagne football they have consistently delivered at these spectacular and refreshingly attack-oriented finals. The physical and resolute three-time world and European champions were no match for the classy Spanish on this occasion, as Joachim Low and his troops readily acknowledged afterwards.

Low pays tribute to sublime Spanish
"We have to acknowledge Spain's greater quality today," the clearly disappointed but composed coach said. "Spain's victory wasn't undeserved," a downcast Michael Ballack conceded. Right-back Arne Friedrich was equally frank when he spoke to FIFA.com: "The Spanish haven't lost a single match at the tournament, they were extremely smart in the final and played some brilliant football in midfield. You have to be objective and say they deserve to be European champions."

In front of their home crowd at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, Germany stunned the footballing world and won a host of new admirers with their pacy and direct attacks, but the efforts of superstar Ballack and his men to reproduce that form in Austria and Switzerland were patchy at best. The Iberians, Low feels, have raised the bar in that respect, although Jurgen Klinsmann's successor also senses his own team have made progress: "Taking into account he last World Cup, EURO qualifying in the two years after that, and now these finals, we're definitely up there at the top in Europe and the world. The team has learned a lot and come on tremendously."

Proud of images from Germany

The German players are well aware of their technical shortcomings at the tournament, recognising that their appearance in the final owed a lot to traditional virtues of obduracy, desire and the will to win. Nevertheless, Bastian Schweinsteiger told FIFA.com, the squad would return home with a clear conscience. "We've seen footage of what was happening in Germany again, and that's what makes us most proud."

In scenes nostalgically reminiscent of summer 2006, tens of thousands regularly took to the streets of Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg and elsewhere to watch Low's men in action on giant screens. The first stage of the post-Klinsmann era saw a seamless continuation of a new-found passion for the national team in Germany. The current players, whose elder statesman Jens Lehmann left reporters guessing on Sunday night by accepting at 38 he had played his last match at a EURO but not necessarily for the national team, have no reason to be despondent with regard to the future.

After the conclusive defeat to the Spanish, the dressing room mood was one of defiance and almost mulish determination. The talk was of South Africa, and the next massive international showdown at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Even at this early stage, Germany have a plan in place: "I regard us as a young team with the potential to develop. . I hope we can go one better when we get there," commented Schweinsteiger with a typically boyish grin.

His Bayern team-mate Philipp Lahm, whose momentary misunderstanding with Lehmann on 33 minutes led to the winning goal by the supremely opportunistic Fernando Torres, took a similar point of view. "Third, second, first? I don't know if that's the formula, but obviously, it's our goal. We've come a very long way in the last two years, and we'd like to keep that up from now on."

And who knows, amid Spanish dances and German visions of the future, there might have been time and space for a word or two between the opposing players. The Iberians certainly possess knowledge that may yet be crucial to Low and his troops, such as how to rattle up successive clear-cut victories over Russia, almost certainly Germany's sternest opposition in FIFA World Cup European qualifying Group 4, where the Mannschaft open their campaign on 6 September in Liechtenstein.