Wednesday, 7th July – 7:30pm
Moses Madhiba Stadium, Durban
It goes without saying that revenge will be one key ingredient added into this semi-final mixer, with the Germans aiming to avenge their 1-0 loss to Spain in the final of the 2008 European Championships in Austria and Switzerland. But there’s also a small piece of history up for grabs should Germany gain the upper hand over the Spanish, as victory on Wednesday in this highly anticipated clash would send them through their eighth FIFA World Cup final, what would be a new record. But by the same token, Germany are aiming to avoid successive semi-final defeats, as on home soil four years ago, Italy despatched of the Germans via extra-time in Dortmund.
This German team continue to go from strength to strength in this tournament, defying the fairly substantial odds at the start of the competition to blow the majority of their opponents out of the water as a place in the last-four beckoned. While they weren’t always convincing in the groups, a 1-0 defeat to Serbia providing an instant dose of reality, Germany have obliterated their knock-out opponents, smashing four goals past both England and Argentina en route to their 12th appearance in a semi-final. They were simply too good for the English, punishing their arch rivals for committing too men to attack and for their sloppy defending, but they were outrageously good against Argentina in the last round, utterly dominant throughout as they nullified the South Americans daunting inventory as well as remaining a constant and ruthless threat up the other end of the pitch. It was a football lesson at times, a tactical masterpiece from coach Joachim Low, in a flawless performance from the Germans.
If Germany play in the same manner, with the confidence and swagger, as they did against England and Argentina then we see only one winner in this contest against a Spanish side which has flattered to deceive throughout the tournament. Some of their football at times is breathtaking, while so many are playing beyond themselves. Mesut Ozil has instantly become a worldwide sensation with his energetic displays, Lukas Podolski showing us why Low placed his faith in the Koln forward as the rest of the German public and media doubted him while Bastien Schweinsteiger put in arguably the biggest shift of any player in the tournament so far against Argentina on Saturday, just absolutely sensational in the centre of the park as he ran the show from start to finish. Not forgetting their veteran up front in Miroslav Klose, who had critics in every German corner before the tournament but his four goals in four games have not only aided Germany in a last-four showdown with Spain, not just put him in contention to land his second FIFA World Cup Golden Boot – thus becoming the first player to do so should he overhaul Spain’s David Villa – but he’s just one goal shy of Ronaldo’s (Brazil) record of 15 goals in FIFA World Cup’s. If that’s not an incentive for him to shine and score on Wednesday, we don’t know what is.
The only downer, and we mean ONLY, in their rout over Argentina was that Thomas Muller, who was having an outstanding tournament, received his second yellow card of the tournament and will miss Wednesday’s match. Considering he’s been instrumental in the knock-outs for Germany, his absence could prove a huge blow, especially as Joachim Low doesn’t really have a stand out performer to replace him with. The Brazilian born Cacua is an injury doubt, Muller’s likely replacement, so it looks as though it’s a toss-up between Marko Marin and Piotr Trochowski for Muller’s role just off the lone striker of Klose.
It is somewhat remarkable that Wednesday will be Spain’s second ever appearance in the semi-finals of World Cup, with their last coming way back in 1950 in a tournament which boasted just 13 competitors. 60 years on and coach Vicente Del Bosque has established arguably the strongest Spanish national team in their history, admired and respected by everyone but finally a team with consistency installed in them. It wasn’t so long ago that this confident group of Spanish stars were enjoying a 35-game unbeaten run before bowing out to the United States at the FIFA Confederations Cup last year. Slap bang in the middle of that run was, however, their Austria/Switzerland success at the 2008 EURO’s and it’s that which will spur them on when Wednesday’s kick-off finally dawns on them, as it was Germany whom they overcame in the final to claim their first major tournament in nearly in 44 years.
Spain have been one of a number of big named teams to stutter in these finals, with the six goals in five games scored in South Africa a far cry from the twelve racked up in six outings two years at the 2008 EURO’s. Even so, the Spanish have got the job done in what some may describe as an efficient manner, but it’s not as if Del Bosque’s players haven’t exerted a lot of energy because they have, plenty in fact as they’ve often struggled to break down those providing a stubborn defensive resistance. There is, nevertheless, still plenty more to come from Spain and there is every chance the Spain we’ve come to love in recent years, the team which players its football at 100mph, will return although there has been little sign of them doing so in South Africa. Against Germany, who are by far and away the team of the tournament, Spain simply have to raise their overall game, specifically the speed and tempo at which they play else their unconvincing campaign in South Africa will come to an abrupt end.
Vicente Del Bosque has hinted that Fernando Torres could be dropped for this decisive clash with Germany, with the Liverpool forward failing to open his account in South Africa and didn’t actually score a single goal in qualifying either. The former Real Madrid manager is well aware of the talent and match winning potential that Torres has, after all it was Fernando himself which scored Spain’s winner against Germany in the 2008 EURO final and the Spanish gaffer would be forgiven for thinking lightening may just strike twice. If Torres doesn’t start from the off then Fernando Llorente will get a rare run out from the off. The Athletico Bilbao scored 23 goals for his club last season and was a menace against Portugal in their Round of 16 victory, with his superb upper body strength more than a match for any defender. Raul Albiol may also start against Germany after recovering from an injury which has restricted the Real Madrid centre-back’s appearances in South Africa.
Like we said earlier, Spain need to begin proceedings with more zest, with far more intent and purpose than in any of their previous encounters thus far. They haven’t tested the defences in South Africa anywhere near as much as they should have, with the lack of movement up front, mainly because of Torres’ lethargic displays it has to be said, has meant all the play has been in front of defenders, which makes defending a whole lot easier. Fernando Llorente could start against Germany and his smart runs against Portugal a couple of games ago seen him go far closer to scoring in South Africa than his forward mentor, Fernando Torres. It’s a tough call Del Bosque is going to have to make but if Spain want to win this hugely competitive encounter, which I’m pretty sure they do, they’ll need to drop Torres in our opinion. Something clearly isn’t right with the forward and a break from the starting eleven may well awake the Liverpool forward from his slumber – let him know that he shouldn’t take his automatic position in the Spanish set up for granted.
Match Verdict: Draw – 3.30
This was so tough to call between the pre-tournament favourites and the side we now all deem the team to beat in Germany. The Germans were utterly breathtaking as they dismantled a well-armed Argentina team, while they were equally impressive when humbling England, with Joachim Low’s men scoring four goals on both occasions. It is unlikely that Germany will reach four goals in this contest, as Spain have only conceded two goals in South Africa, one of those coming in a 1-0 loss to Switzerland. Moreover, chances are that Spain will enjoy a lot more of the possession than both England and Argentina did as Germany overran the midfield, that shouldn’t happen on Wednesday so we should have a pretty even contest. With that said, we can’t split the two and feel this match has every chance of going all the way.
If Germany continue to play with the same self-belief and confidence which seen seem overpower England and Argentina, there will only be one winner. However, the same can be said about Spain, as were the Spain which went 35 games unbeaten to return to its former glory, they would be difficult to stop. You could find a case for the Germans because they have been very consistent, far more than their opponents, but they will come up against a more well-rounded team this time around and will be put through their paces far more than previously.