WHEN Germany put four past England, all the talk was of how bad England were. When it repeated the feat against the highly fancied Argentineans six days later, the talk turned to how good the Germans were.
Of the five games they have played in the finals to date, Germany has scored four goals three times – Australia being the other fall guys. Will the Spanish become the Germans’ fourth four-goal victims tomorrow morning?
Perversely, Spain’s chances depend on how well they defend when they have the ball. The Germans have mastered the art of counter-attacking football. Key to their success has been to score early, thereby forcing opponents into taking the game to them. Reminiscent of Manchester United at their peak, when they strike they do so at pace.
On the two occasions that Germany has struggled in the tournament – first against Serbia, when Miroslav Klose was harshly sent off, and second against a stubborn Ghana side – it was because they failed to get ahead of their opponents early in the game. They then found it difficult to break down opponents who defended in numbers.
Against Argentina and England, by scoring early the Germans were able to wait until their opponents committed too many players to attack, leaving them vulnerable to the sucker punch.
At times, Argentina’s captain Javier Mascherano seemed isolated in the centre of their midfield as if he were the last man standing at the Alamo, and Gareth Barry went walkabout so often for England that he should have his passport revoked.
Spain will prove a tougher nut to crack.
With Sergio Busquets sitting just in front of the back four and Xabier Alonso playing like an American Football quarterback alongside him, Spain should be less vulnerable to Germany’s pace. Neither will be caught too far up field.
For long periods of its quarterfinal, Argentina had the majority of possession but failed to do anything with it. The Spanish are likely to see even more of the ball. With David Villa’s mobility up front, they should be able to break down the Germans’ defence eventually. Patience will be the key, and this is a quality that the Spanish possess in abundance.
Whoever wins, the second semifinal should be an intriguing contest between two fine sides with contrasting styles of play.
The Spanish will develop the game slowly. With their short passing game they will try to manipulate the German defence out of position and then scythe through it with a devastating pass. Germany will play much more direct football with pace, trusting in the speed of both its passing and running off the ball to penetrate the Spanish defensive line.
Unless the Germans score early, I expect Spain to wear them down in a war of attrition, with the pace of David Villa, Cesc Fabregas and Pedro Rodriguez proving vital later on should the scores remain level after 70 minutes. If the Germans do secure that early goal, Spain could be on the receiving end of another German four-pack.