Germany vs. Spain: World Cup semifinal has all the makings of a final
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA -- At Moses Mabhida Stadium, a half-year-old gem built a few hundred yards from mangroves and surf in this beach destination, Germany and Spain will enter Wednesday's World Cup semifinal with rosters and pedigrees befitting of the championship game of this quadrennial event.
Wednesday's winner almost certainly will be favored in Sunday's final against the Netherlands, and many observers have expressed sentiments similar to those of German forward Lukas Podolski, who said the matchup "would have been a great final."
Of course, Germany is here, for Germany almost always reaches the semifinals (nine times in the past 12 tournaments). Spain fits the part as well, having won the 2008 European title and boasting a roster of players plucked almost exclusively from an exceptional domestic league.
But when the tournament began almost a month ago, doubts followed both sides -- Germany because of inexperience (its youngest roster since 1934) and injury (captain Michael Ballack is out); Spain because of a sour World Cup history (no previous semifinal appearances).
Atypically, the Germans have responded with a ferocious attack that produced 13 goals in five matches, including four apiece against both England and Argentina in the knockout rounds. Typically, they have been organized and determined on defense, conceding just two goals.
Germany "has undergone a renewal with the important young players," Spain Coach Vicente Del Bosque said. "And they have maintained the values of German football."
The instigators have been midfielders Mesut Oezil, 21, Thomas Mueller, 20, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, 25. Mueller, whose four goals match veteran teammate Miroslav Klose's total, will miss the semifinal with a yellow card suspension.
Germany's challenge is to maintain its fine attacking rhythm while properly defending a Spain side that moves -- with and without the ball -- like no other team in the world.
"It will be difficult to neutralize them completely," Germany Coach Joachim Loew said. "We will continue to play our attacking style, precisely what has brought about our success. We won against Argentina and England very much because we always insisted, even after taking the lead 1-0 or 2-0, we continued playing offensively.
"This is precisely where we have got the greatest opportunities. This is precisely how we are going to success. Otherwise, we won't stand a chance against Spain."
Spain has encountered problems, starting with a 1-0 upset defeat to Switzerland in the Group H opener. Aside from David Villa's five goals, the finishing has been suspect and striker Fernando Torres has been terribly out of form after returning from a pre-tournament knee injury. Del Bosque declined to say whether Torres would be given another chance Wednesday.
Villa, who has scored in four straight games, is in a "state of grace," Del Bosque said. Added midfielder Xabi Alonso, "He's a menace for every defense."