Sunday, July 04, 2010
In Too Deep
Germany v. Argentina
What on earth would have been the odds on a 4-0 victory for the Germans at the start? Australia at least had the excuse of playing with a man less for half an hour against Germany, and of course England can point to Frank Lampard's phantom goal to help explain their demise. But this was quite different: one of the most talented teams in the tournament was absolutely thumped by this confident young German side, and the margin of victory was fully deserved.
The strategy of having Lionel Messi drop far off the forward line to make his runs finally came a cropper, and Ned Zelic got it spot on in the SBS studio before the game, when he commented that the problem with Messi starting from so deep was that he was left with so many men to beat. Thus it proved, and Messi's stubborn refusal to push further upfield drew much of the sting from Argentina's attack. Carlos Tevez battled manfully as always, but he had little support. It was significant that Angel di Maria, switching flanks early on, was regularly to be found closer to Gonzalo Higuain than Messi was.
The Germans managed to post a comprehensive victory this time without a major contribution from Mesut Ozil, which must have the Spanish somewhat concerned. Instead, it was Bastian Schweinsteiger who took control of the midfield, putting himself at the centre of everything and setting up the third goal with a surging run down the left.
It was, in fact, richly significant that every single one of the Germans' goals had their origin on Argentina's right side of defence. Nicolas Otamendi was brought into the side to replace the suspect Jonas Gutierrez in the right fullback role, but his inadequacies were shown up throughout, not least when he was so readily tricked into a foul by Lukas Podolski in the lead-up to the opener.
Meanwhile, one of the finest right-backs of all time, an Argentinian who has just led his side to victory in the UEFA Champions League, was presumably watching the match on TV. Can anyone spot what's wrong with this picture?
Thomas Muller's suspension for the semi-final will hurt the Germans, since the 20-year-old from Bayern Munich has had a superb tournament and provided much of the side's attacking impetus. But the confidence in the German camp will be sky-high...even if there is that nagging feeling that they may have reached their peak too early.
Spain v. Paraguay
Spain are a side who have yet to reach their peak, or anything like it, but they deserve credit for snatching a late winner against a tough side who have enhanced their reputation at this tournament. It's hard to argue with Gerardo Martino's tactics: several changes to give the players who battled through 120 minutes against Japan a rest, and Dario Veron, nominally a central defender, drafted in at right-back to deal with the inevitable drifts of David Villa out to the left.
For quite some time, the game displayed the limitations of the "inside-out" winger strategy, employed ever more widely these days. With Villa cutting inside onto his right foot and Andres Iniesta always striving to play centrally as well, Paraguay simply stiffened the central areas and largely blunted the incisiveness of these two. The goal, pertinently, came after Iniesta had shifted to a central area, where he has always looked more comfortable and effective.
Martino got his match strategy spot on as well, I feel. With Paraguay pressing Spain from the outset and preventing them from finding their rhythm, Vicente del Bosque's side lost some self-belief, and there was a series of uncharacteristic errors from some of Spain's key men, not least Xabi Alonso. Once Paraguay had settled into an essentially defensive posture, Spain found it hard to get their game flowing.
The game then followed a predictable pattern, Spain's measured attacks balanced by the physical threat of Nelson Haedo Valdez at the other end. Then...the drama.
Both of the penalties in question, incidentally, were dreadfully soft, Villa and Oscar Cardozo both making the most of relatively benign challenges. But the refereeing thereafter was quite horrendous; at Cardozo's penalty, not only did Iker Casillas move off his line, but no fewer than three Spanish players encroached into the area...and yet the kick was not retaken. At the other end, Xabi Alonso's well-struck penalty had to be repeated after a fractional incursion into the area by a Spanish player.
It is incredible that we have come to accept such farcically poor refereeing at penalties as a matter of course, while wringing our hands constantly over much less relevant matters. This, incidentally, is one of the many reasons why penalty shoot-outs need to be abolished as soon as possible. But I digress.
Spain's winning goal, when it finally came, was very well-constructed; the contribution of Iniesta has attracted deserved praise, but Xavi's delightful touch-off to his Barca team-mate was a pleasure to watch as well. Off both posts and in - shades of Rainer Bonhof against Sweden in 1974, or indeed Tim Cahill against Japan in 2006!
Cardozo, like Asamoah Gyan last night, deserves plenty of sympathetic hugs in the aftermath. It was nice to see some Spanish players, notably Sergio Ramos, offering the poor Benfica man some comfort after the final whistle as well as his Paraguay team-mates; again, his contributions during the tournament outweigh his unfortunate penalty choke (and, it's worth repeating, it should have been retaken in any event).
Spain v. Germany should be a brilliant game. Spain, I repeat, are yet to hit their best, and if they can do so against the Germans, the entertainment level will be top-notch.
My amateur impression of ermany yesterday was that they are the only team at the Cup to have demonstrated mastery of the modern game. There's a few teams, like Spain, who have mastered all of it except, to use your own metaphor, the ability to solve the puzzle of a modern defense.
Two of those goals were simply the final pass, with Argentina's defense 100% beaten. Which other team is doing that?
Four goals each vs three seperate opponents sounds pretty impressive too, especially as most teams are struggling to score at all.
But have they peaked, as you suggest Mike? We'll see ey?
The best thing about th two games yesterday for Jacob and I were they were to decide who we'd be seeing live. Germany v Spain sounds pretty bloody good to me!