Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Flying Dutchmen

Miracles can happen. Not only did the Netherlands rise to the occassion, but Arjen Robben scored a header. That once in a lifetime occurence has helped put Holland into their third World Cup final. As for Uruguay, they were perhaps unlucky, but ultimately paid the price for only deciding to attack in the last 5 minutes.

The match itself was a bit of a strange one, the scoreline suggests a real thriller, but there was an air of inevitability about a Dutch win throughout, and they weren't ever really under pressure until late on when the referee seemed to be waiting for another goal. Of course the real highlights of the match were a couple of screamers, particularly from Gio van Bronckhorst and Diego Forlan, but also an honourable mention to Maxi Perreira's late second for Uruguay. Well worked free kicks make a nice change from the incredibly stupid 'tap it 2 inches sideways and smash it into the onrushing wall' ones.

One team has already made it to Soccer City, now it's time to focus on the second semi-final, a semi final that definitely has the potential to be a classic. Four years ago at this stage Germany fell to Italy on home soil in one of the best matches of that tournament. Now they have the chance to make amends. About half of the team remains (which does make the 'they're so young and inexperienced' claims seem a bit silly) and will surely be better off for the experience.

The big question for Germany is who will replace Thomas Mueller on the right side of midfield/attack. Whoever it is, they are going to be weakened in some way, it just depends how much. Their right is the side David Villa will be stationed, so the replacement is going to have to help out in defence, something Mueller is very good at. Toni Kroos is perhaps the frontrunner, so he will have a big job to do tonight.

Spain have never got this far before, so regardless of what happens this is almost undeniably the greatest team they have ever had, particularly taking the Euro 2008 win into account as well, their first ever major title. The vast majority of that side will play tonight, only Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique are new faces. They don't play in quite the same way, the pace was quicker and they were more incisive two years ago, but they are being held back a bit by the inclusion of Torres and Alonso. Torres is playing like a poor man's Emile Heskey, and Alonso doesn't fit into the midfield very well, his style is just too different to the rest of them, so his real strength - long range passing - is rather wasted.

This is definitely the hardest game to predict so far, an early goal for either team could be so crucial. Both Germany and Spain want the opposition to come at them and use the resulting space, so if the other side has to attack almost from the off the team in the lead should be able to pick them apart. The flip side is that neither of them is exactly Bolton under Fat Sam, so aren't going to sit back. I expect goals, but picking a winner is almost impossible. I think Spain will start badly (again) and then improve after about an hour when Torres is taken off (again), because of that I fancy them to fall just short.

Those 'ruthlessly efficient, young and inexperienced, not as good as England, definitely not as good as Argentina' Germans to win, and bearing in mind that there hasn't been a semi-final won by more than one goal since 1986, they'll only scrape through. But scrape through nonetheless.

Let's hope for a real classic.

Germany 2-1 Spain.

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