Sunday, July 11, 2010
Schweini and the Three Diegos
One of the pleasing things about open games is that they depict the qualities of individual players very starkly. This morning, we saw all the players in their true colours, so to speak, and the stars in each side shone brightly. Both teams boast players with leadership qualities in abundance: Germany has one, and plenty of talented players alongside him to follow his lead. Uruguay has three, and they all happen to be called Diego. (One more and they could start a football radio show in Melbourne.)
Up front, of course, there is Diego Forlan, one of the players of the tournament. It was not just his sweetly-taken volley-on-the-bounce goal that impressed against the Germans; once again, he drifted all across the forward line, with greater licence to roam this time thanks to the return of Luis Suarez and the continued presence of Edison Cavani, drifting shrewdly between midfield and attack. It was fitting that Forlan had the game's parting shot, that free kick that rattled the German bar.
In midfield, we have Diego Perez, an underrated contributor to Uruguay's achievement in South Africa. The granite-faced Monaco midfielder hauled his side back into the game against South Korea in the Round of 16, and last night he gave a sure indication of his value on the occasion of the first Uruguay goal. Of course, it was Suarez and Cavani who played the final parts in the move, but the powerful lunging tackle on Bastian Schweinsteiger, followed by the neat prod forwards...that was Perez. He did tire as the pacy game wore on, eventually being replaced, but Oscar Tabarez has much to thank him for.
And at the back...the player who was dreadfully missed against Holland in the semi-final. Diego Lugano was the man responsible for repelling the early waves of German aggression, and throughout the game one got the feeling that he was keeping the backline together single-handedly. Diego Godin put in an improved performance with his captain beside him, and Jorge Fucile appeared to feel much more inclined to get forward with the knowledge that Lugano was there to marshal the defence.
In the young German side, Bastian Schweinsteiger was the unquestioned commandant. Other than his rare lapse on the occasion of Uruguay's opening goal, he barely put a foot wrong in midfield, breaking up opposition attacks and initiating German offensives in equal measure. Thomas Muller may have been Germany's player of the tournament (and his drive and movement against Uruguay constituted yet another reminder of how deeply significant his harsh suspension for the semi-final was), but Schweinsteiger deserves the accolade of king of the kids.
To repeat, it was a game which highlighted individual players' strengths and weaknesses, and the calm, unfussy defensive style of Per Mertesacker was especially impressive on this occasion. Arne Friedrich made one or two errors beside him, as usual, but Mertesacker was impeccable for most of the evening, despite the strong pressure applied by Uruguay's mobile front three (or perhaps two and a half would be a better description).
Speaking of frontlines, Germany didn't really have one as such; their line-up, in the absence of Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, was a sort of 4-2-4-0 of the type that Jonathan Wilson has made mention of in the past; the space in front of the advanced midfield four (Cacau was more midfielder than striker for much of the night) was filled according to need, and the movement was superbly fluid.
Let us hope against hope that this match is a prelude to an even better contest in Johannesburg this morning. It was splendid to see two sides so vigorously committed to attack...and it shouldn't always take a game with limited competitive significance to produce such a spectacle.