After some weirdness in the Group stage — a close shave victory over the Black Stars and a surprising defeat to Serbia — Germany returned to the form they’d displayed against Australia and proceeded to clobber England and clobber Argentina. They expected to clobber Spain.
A few days ago I posed the question, “How the hell is anybody going to beat these guys?” I feared I was being rhetorical. Turns out Spain had the answer.
- Stick with the passing game.
- Attack like crazy.
- Stifle Germany on the break.
- Don’t be afraid to compete with German giants in the air.
In their now infamous Group stage defeat to Switzerland, Spain played in every corner and half their set pieces short and low. The predictability of their game made it all too easy for the Swiss to stand firm. Switzerland scored on the break. Spain never scored at all.
If Spain had played this semi-final the same way, they’d likely have seen the same result. Instead, they ran the Germans ragged, fiercely attacking at one end of the pitch, smothering counter-attacks at the other. My friend Dec couldn’t remember afterward if the Germans even got a shot off on goal. (They did. Just the one. It prompted an exquisite save from Casillas.)
The breakthrough came in the 73rd minute, when Puyol — surely the smallest player on the pitch — ran up unmarked from the back, rose above the also-unmarked Pique to meet Xavi’s sweetly-launched corner, and headed the ball unequivocally into Neuer’s net.
Germany, of course, is now rooting for Spain. Why? Same reason England has been rooting for Germany. Because a team would rather be defeated by the incipient WC champions than by another bunch of losers. Bet you anything, Uruguay’s rooting for Holland.
As for the 3rd-place play-off in a few hours time… Uruguay claims they’re going for the jugular. Germany’s got something to prove. Should be a helluva match.