Michael Ballack was Chelsea’s stand-out performer at Euro 2008 while captaining Germany to the final, but fell just short as new eras began both at Stamford Bridge and on the international stage, one of which would prove longer lived than the other.

Few international tournaments begin with them feeling as open as Euro 2008 did. Greece’s shock victory four years earlier had thrown predictions out the window, and a general feeling of strength across a number of sides meant there were no clear favourites as the best of Europe arrived in Austria and Switzerland.

England’s failure to qualify resulted in less Chelsea players making the trip than expected, but there were still plenty on international duty over that summer, many of them with realistic hopes of lifting the trophy.

Blues at Euro 2008

Czech Republic
Petr Cech

Nicolas Anelka
Claude Makelele
Florent Malouda

Michael Ballack

Khalid Boulahrouz

Jose Bosingwa
Ricardo Carvalho
Paulo Ferreira

For the Blues supporters back in London, there was particular interest in Portugal’s campaign. In addition to Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira’s call-ups, it had already been announced that fellow defender Jose Bosingwa would be joining them at Stamford Bridge for 2008/09.

Furthermore, the summer rumour mill was in full flow with talk that Portugal’s Brazilian World Cup-winning boss Luiz Felipe Scolari was on the verge of becoming Chelsea’s new manager – an appointment which was confirmed midway through their comfortable progression from the group stage, soon followed by the news he would be bringing playmaker Deco with him.

For most of Europe the focus was very much on the ‘group of death’, as three previous Euros winners – including both 2006 World Cup finalists – were drawn together in the first round, as France, Italy and the Netherlands shared Group C with Romania.

Khalid Boulahrouz’s Chelsea career was nearing its end, but he started every game as the Netherlands underlined their credentials by winning all three matches in Group C, scoring nine goals and conceding just once in the process, including a 3-0 thrashing of world champions Italy in their opening game.

In contrast, our French trio of Claude Makelele, Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka were the fallen giants of the group stage, earning only a single point to finish last in their pool.

There were mixed fortunes for the Blues elsewhere in an entertaining group stage. An uncharacteristic – to say the least – error from Petr Cech contributed to the Czech Republic’s defeat in a decisive final game against Turkey, but Ballack emerged as Germany’s saviour.

The midfielder netted the only goal of the game from a free-kick in a winner-takes-all match against neighbours, rivals and hosts Austria, in what the local press had dubbed ‘Austria’s final’ in the build-up.

Ballack was at it again in the quarter-finals, scoring the decisive goal in a brilliant contest between Germany and Portugal. Wearing the captain’s armband against several current and future Chelsea team-mates, Ballack evaded the attentions of Ferreira to head in the winner, meaning Scolari could turn his attention to his new job sooner than he would have liked.

However, the Netherlands weren’t able to build on their impressive start as they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by a Russia side managed by Guus Hiddink, who would himself arrive at Stamford Bridge to replace Scolari before the end of the 2008/09 season.

It was a match played in tragic circumstances. Incredibly Boulahrouz started the game, just days after his wife had prematurely given birth to their daughter, who sadly passed away. The Dutch players wore black armbands in her memory and took the game to extra time with a late equaliser, but it was the Russians who emerged victorious with two goals in the additional 30 minutes.

The chances of another shock champion to follow Greece were ended in the semis, though. Late goals had become a theme of Euro 2008 and that continued as Ballack captained Germany to a thrilling 3-2 victory over Turkey, thanks to a 90th-minute winning goal.

On the other side of the draw, Spain had been showing themselves to be a real force this time around and dismissed Russia 3-0 to book their own place in the final.

The Spanish had built a reputation as perennial underachievers since their last appearance in the final 24 years earlier, but seemed to be a very different prospect going in this final. Of course, they were about to embark on the most dominant period ever seen in international football, with Euro 2008 becoming the first of an unprecedented three successive major tournament triumphs.

Ballack’s influence was clear, though, as he dictated play from midfield, especially in a strong start for the Germans, and he put his body on the line for his country, playing on despite needing stitches for a head wound suffered in a collision. However, not for the last time, future Chelsea striker Fernando Torres got his name on the scoresheet in a final as Spain were crowned European champions thanks to a 1-0 win.

It was a particularly bitter pill for Ballack to swallow, having also been on the losing side in that year’s Champions League final, when Chelsea were beaten on penalties by Manchester United in the torrential rain of Moscow, just 39 days before succumbing to Spain in Vienna.

He would taste more disappointment during a tumultuous campaign with the Blues in 2008/09, as Scolari was replaced by Hiddink and several members of Spain’s Euro 2008 squad would inflict another defeat on Ballack, this time in a controversial and ill-tempered Champions League semi-final.

However, he did play his part in our 2009 FA Cup triumph, and by the time the next international tournament came around in 2010, Ballack and Chelsea had just claimed the club’s first-ever domestic Double by winning the Premier League and retaining the FA Cup.