Germany have made it to the semifinals against the odds, having been favourites to “trip up” against Argentina. After ripping that notion to shreds, Joachim Loew’s side are now up against the European champions and pre-tournament favourites Spain.
Importantly, Germany have faced tough teams through the tournament and their road so far has not been easy. Well, at least not on paper. They ran through Australia, England and Argentina – scoring four goals in each game – and ground out a difficult 1-0 victory over quarter-finalists Ghana in the group stage. Their only ‘hiccup’ was their 1-0 loss at the hands of Serbia.
Germany’s defence has been shaky at times, but their performance in the last game against Argentina proved that they can stop even the best on their day.
Philipp Lahm (RB, Captain) has been exceptional through and through and has made some very important challenges where a central defender should have done. Not far behind his defensive abilities are his offensive abilities – his runs down the flank, ending with crosses into the box have led to many goals. The best full back on the pitch, he will have the unenviable task of containing David Villa – a goal machine. His defensive error (as LB) having let Torres score Spain’s winning goal in Euro ’08, Lahm will be looking to make amends and I have the feeling that he will be successful this time round.
The German CBs though solid in the last game, have proved shaky in earlier games. Friedrich and Mertesacker will be able to get by if Torres continues his poor run of form, but with Iniesta pushing up the field, they will have to be alert. Germany’s LB – Boateng – is their weakest link in defence but, luckily for him, he will mainly have to look out for Spain’s RB (Ramos) and not their RF (Torres).
Schweinsteiger and Khedira play the holding midfielder roles in Germany’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Schweinsteiger has been in excellent form (at club and country level) and his distribution has been near perfect so far. Not as great as winning the ball as many other defensive midfielders, his ability to join the attack and shoot from long distance allows him to orchestrate play on the field. Khedira, on the other hand, is by far the weaker of the two. Mostly leaving Schweini behind, he often runs up to join Ozil in attack. Although he has been pretty ineffective in most games, he does manage to confuse defences as Germany’s players quickly interchange positions while attacking.
Podolski, Ozil and Muller play Germany’s attacking midfield roles. However, Muller will miss this match due to suspension and Germany’s attacking influence down the right flank will mainly be Lahm. Podolski frequently moves up the field to play alongside Klose and Ozil switches over to the left to cover more space. This switch from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 (or vice versa) has very cleverly been employed in counter attacks and opposing defences (trying to deal not just with six rampaging Germans, but six rampaging Germans that are constantly switching position) have regularly crumbled. Podolski’s left foot has amazing power and his shots on goal will trouble Casillas. Ozil plays a central role and his runs have set up and sustained the German attacks. Kroos may start instead of Muller and coming on as sub against Argentina, he unleashed a ripper of a shot that Romero did well enough to stop. Kroos is another product of the German youth academy and like the rest, he plays at levels above his age.
Klose just celebrated his 100th match – with two goals – and expecting him to get slower with age seems to be as unrealistic as wishing Arsenal would win a trophy this season (sigh). He will have to contend with Puyol and Pique and they will be much tougher than any central defenders he has come across so far in this tournament. Luckily for him, they will also be rougher than the others and with his ability to get into dangerous positions, he should be able to easily draw fouls – and win penalties. There is nothing to say about his finishing that has not been said and the only reason very few people know him (compared to say Torres or Villa) is because he has been in Ronaldo’s shadow for the past two World Cups. He has already won one Golden Boot (World Cup 2006; finished second – World Cup 2002) and I bet he’s just itching to get his hands on one more.
That people still think Spain are favourites is, more than anything, frankly disturbing. They have lost to Switzerland, struggled for goals against relative minnows and at times looked like a flashy version of… England. Yet, maybe because of an easy draw or because of favours from the referee, they find themselves in the semi-finals against Germany. It is ironic that the European champions look a shadow of their ’08 selves and with papers hailing Germany’s performance in their victory over Argentina as “one of champions”, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Spain’s players end up crying post 90 minutes.
[PS: Some people watching Chile-Spain thought Chile were Spain because they were playing well and wore red jerseys]
[PPS: I was not one of those aforementioned people]
[PPPS: I swear]
Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila. Ramos has hardly been in defence – he’s always attacking – but at least this time his attacks are proving effective. Puyol has at times left Spain open to counters when he’s gone on his runs up front. Pique has been solid so far except for a dumb penalty conceded to Paraguay. And Capdevila is only in the team because his name has ‘Vila’ in it and Del Bosque was too dumb to realise that he isn’t the one that plays an attacking position. So now to cover up for his foolishness, he’s made him start. Thanks to Podolski, this time that gypsy-hippie Ramos will be forced to stay back and give defending a shot (which he can’t do for nuts). He should be pretty successful with his attacks though, considering his recent form and Germany’s pathetic excuse for a LB in Boateng. Pique and Puyol play extremely rough and somehow SOMEHOW Spain manages to escape getting carded. Their only cards so far were against Paraguay and how convenient that all yellow cards will be thrown out, meaning none of their players have started the game with anything to worry about – in all their games so far.
Xabi Alonso plays the role of CDM in Spain’s 4-4-2 formation and he has been good at doing what he has to do. At times though, he has played like an absolute nincompoop though I wouldn’t know where he gets that from (*cough* Busquets *cough*). With that we come to Spain’s best actor – Sergio Busquets. His skills as defensive midfielder cannot be questioned because no matter what, he manages to win the ball every time – much to Alonso’s frustation. His technique, however, is very unorthodox. As soon as Ozil/Podolski/Schweinsteiger or any German with the ball comes within a radius of 1m of Busquets, he will start scratching his back on the ground while facepalming. No matter where the ball has hit him, or the player has hit him he will be clutching his 1. face 2. knee (choose one). What is more surprising is that every referee actually believes that Busquets has been smacked on the face (err.. I see why that is easy to believe) and I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising since these are the same referees that don’t see monsters like Tevez standing offside or balls crossing the goal-line. You see the thing is Spain press for the ball with their whole team so they can afford to use just one defensive midfielder with a joke as relief.
A little ahead play Xavi and Iniesta, a duo if you can ever think of one (get the joke?). Xavi has transformed himself into a ball-rebounder, no matter who passes the ball to him he will have it out of his system with a one-touch pass in less than one second (or it’s free – get the joke?). Unfortunately, this has led to Spain forgetting that the aim of football is to get the ball into the opponent’s goal so don’t be too surprised if Spain keep passing the ball for 89 minutes and then Germany score 5 on the counters in the last 5 minutes. Xavi has created a lot of goal scoring chances for Spain and he should be able to easily implement his style on the game considering Paraguay’s defence are probably stronger than Germany’s. Iniesta, his attack partner, has looked like a real rockstar on the pitch. Always looking to set up chances and at times taking shots himself, Iniesta is the real co-ordinator of Spain’s attacks. Philip Lahm may pose problems to Iniesta, but I assume Spain will tackle that by having Iniesta run down the centre.
Villa has been a literal goal machine so far. Either the goalie is high (Chile) or the defence decides to go for a walk (Portugal) or just a bit of magic from Villa himself (Honduras) but Villa always manages to find his name on the scoresheet when Spain score. While Spain needed to come up with an intricate tactical plan that requires near perfect implementation of possession, pressing all over and finishing to increase male viewership, Villa has single handedly managed to do all that with the opposite gender by just ‘looking good’. This time around he will have to contend with the tough Philip Lahm, a true master of the game who definitely can tie Villa down. I was doubtful about how good Villa was, but then Barcelona bought him so he must be good really Spanish (though this means that next season he will be utter bull…). He seems to be the only Spaniard actually interested in getting the ball into the back of the net because…
Torres surely isn’t. His girlfriend must be in Row Z of the stadium with Torres very intent on sending balls there. In fact, Villa, Ramos and Iniesta need to worry more about Torres than any of the German defenders. He is the strongest defensive force on the pitch. He will clear balls (on the goal line) that are destined for goal and head balls out of danger. It’s a pity to see someone with so much talent playing so.. grandmother-like, but he’s definitely a tiny, minute shadow of the player he was. He needs to buck up – and fast. Only two games to go and if he doesn’t “bring it”, the second of those games will be the third-fourth playoffs.
Special mention: Old grand-daddy Del Bosque
Why this team needs a coach is a question no one can answer. A bunch of monkeys eating bananas could do the same thing Del Bosque has done so far – nothing (Note: By doing nothing, he is better than Maradona – who drives teams into the ground). A lot of people have been clamouring for Fabregas’ inclusion into the team but sadly, the old bald Colonel Sanders lookalike is right about this one. Think about it… where would Fabregas fit? Without a change of formation he wouldn’t, but Del Bosque seems oblivious to the fact that a 4-1-3-2 with Fabregas would probably turn Spain into a footballing bulldozer. Somehow, Busquets still manages to get picked over Fabregas and another substitute, Pedro, still can’t manage to replace Torres – because Del Bosque won’t let him. This is Del Bosque’s chance to come up with a tactical masterstroke without which, it is very tough to see Spain winning.
Predicted Winner: Germany
Start time: Midnight IST
Dive?: Germany 0/5 Spain 7/5 (with Busquets) 4/5 (without Busquets)
Hashir: it’s impossible to make a case for Fabregas’ inclusion dude. Busquets is their only true defensive midfielder (Alonso is a defensive playmaker) and Busquets plays with Xavi and Iniestia in Barca, so there is no way Del Bosque will risk sacrificing his only out-and-out def mid and change something as fundamental as team chemistry. If Fabregas does start (hypothetically), I guarantee you it will not be at Busquet’s expense. Sacrificing Torres for Fabregas is the only option.