Semi-finals match day 2 - Germany vs. Spain, or when a final isn't a final.
Glaring Omissions- While I am reasonably competent about my stats, I still get things absolutely wrong. Yesterday I completely forgot that the yellow card rules changed for this tournament meaning that the slates wiped clean after the quarterfinals instead of the second round. Only people with accumulated yellow cards had anything to worry about. This rule change helps prevents players from accumulating two cards in the quarter-finals and the semis then subsequently going out for the finals. I've already biffed on a couple of other things, but I felt it important to mention this one tonight since I made such a big deal out of the Netherlands situation last night.
On with the tomfoolery!
Last night's game played out as I thought it might with the exception of the Dutch defense falling asleep on Diego Forlan for a second and then being a little too exuberant in stoppage time and then letting the game get much closer than it should have been when they allowed the second Uruguayan goal. Giovanni Van Bronckhorst's piledrive from 40 yards is my goal of the tournament. I still can't believe that one went in. Arjen Robben continued to show why he is one of the best players in the World with his beautifully executed header for goal. I would have liked to have seen Uruguay with Suarez in the lineup. I think that game is much closer if he is on the pitch. Diego Forlan is one of the best players in the tournament this year and is certainly in the conversation to win some hardware for it. Wesley Sneijder has played so well that when you put his regular season performance with Inter Milan together with a possible World Cup win, he may just get the player of the year award.
Germany against Spain is the final that everyone would have been happy with anyway, so getting this in the semi-final round is fantastic. Spain are looking to cement the reputation they started creating for themselves at Euro 2008. Germany are looking to stamp this game with their newfound artistry. Both teams come in with key injury and roster question marks that could really change the nature of the game. Thomas Muller is out for Germany with card accumulation. His passing and shot selection has made up a fair amount of the German offense in the tournament, so losing him hurts. Spain has Carlos Puyol and Cesc Fabregas under injury concern meaning a whole in the center of the defense and the better offensive option up top pairing Villa possibly out too. Both injuries are not absolute at the time I'm writing this so until the game starts we just won't know. If Fabregas is out, then Spain just falls back on Fernando Torres. Torres has been out of form most of the tournament but one goal changes everything. Puyol is the greater concern because the last thing they need is to leave an open door for Podolski or Klose to stroll through. Germany has the unfortunate task of trying to stop David Villa. He has accounted for 5 of 6 Spain goals this tournament.
Spain's keys to the game:
1. Give David Villa space. Villa is playing on the left side which is the actually the stronger side of the German defense with Captain Lahm using his quickness to negate Villa's own blistering pace. Spain should be looking to Xavi to slip passes closer to the middle of the box for Villa to poach.
2. Get somebody to offer pressure other than Villa. The German's probably have an amazing scouting report on Spain and you would have to be blind not to know David Villa was your number one challenge. It will fall on Cesc Fabregas or Torres to turn the pressure up and pull markers away from Villa.
3. Shut down Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger. You cut off the passing lanes and Podolski and Klose won't have any ammunition. If Puyol is indeed out, then this becomes a very difficult proposition.
Germany's keys to the game:
1. Villa, VIlla, Villa...
2. Compensate for the loss of Thomas Muller. With Ozil and Schweinsteiger, Germany still has a ton of options in moving the attack forward. Shutting down both of them will be very difficult. Right now, they actually play more of a Dutch style football than the Dutch do.
3. Shut down the Spanish midfield. So much easier said than done. Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Iniesta all provide challenges for any club team when they play by themselves. Now you throw them together and it it becomes an OCTOPUS OF DEATH! Well, not really but you get the idea.
It has the potential to be the game of the tournament. It could stink to high heaven, but a lot of the ingredients are there for spectacular play. The Dutch people desperately want to play the Germans to get a little payback for 1974, and possibly other things... 'cough' WWII 'cough'. I'd love to see either team make it through because of the quality of play from either side.
Best guess: I have no guess for this one. I can only sit back and enjoy.