Thursday, July 08, 2010


Tournament Smarts

All sorts of superlatives have been applied to the current Spanish side over the last couple of years, and despite their stuttering start to the World Cup, they will no doubt attract similar praise in the coming days for a truly fine performance in their semi-final win over a German team that seemed to have lost some self-belief.

One thing that has struck me about Spain's recent record is that they have somehow developed not only a beautifully-calibrated cohesion in midfield, but some tournament nous as well. There have been Spanish sides of this calibre in the past (notably in the mid-eighties, and in the early years of this century) but they have consistently shown a tendency to reach their peak at a short tournament too early.

Such has not been the case with Vicente del Bosque's side, which has grown steadily throughout the event and is now, with the omission of the out-of-sorts Fernando Torres, functioning superbly. Interestingly, if Spain win the final against the Dutch on Sunday, they will be the first team ever to win the World Cup after losing their opening game.

Joachim Loew, I feel, made a major strategic error in allowing the Spanish to settle so easily into their preferred passing rhythm so early in the piece. Such was the policy adopted by Portugal in the Round of 16, and the Spanish were rarely seriously troubled; similarly, for long periods of this morning's game, the phrase "only a matter of time" came to mind. Paraguay, by comparison, took the bold and correct approach of pressing the Spanish defence (notably the vulnerable Sergio Ramos) early on in the quarter-final, and forced Spain to work very hard to take control.

Still, for all the Spanish possession early on, they failed to create many clear openings; the German defence dealt capably with the attempted diagonal through-balls from the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and even the drifting of the latter into the centre failed to trouble Germany unduly. Arne Friedrich must have caused Loew some heart-flutters when he repeatedly strolled out of defence only to lose the ball, but in the first half Spain couldn't take advantage.

It was only at about the half-hour mark that Germany began to mount some attacks of their own, and Iker Casillas's preference for punching rather than catching - always his chief defect as a keeper - must have emboldened them a little. But one of the small but significant factors in the game, Mesut Ozil's loss of form, drew much of the teeth from their offensive efforts. They also, of course, badly missed Thomas Muller, and the incredibly soft yellow card against Argentina that resulted in his suspension can certainly be pointed to as a grievance.

Loew essentially admitted some selection mistakes with his changes after half-time, with the defensively-minded Jerome Boateng giving way to Marcell Jansen to halt some of the Spanish raids down the right, and Toni Kroos replacing the largely ineffectual Piotr Trochowski. But Spain were unruffled, and Iniesta's increasing mastery of Philipp Lahm on the Spanish left was ultimately the instrument of Spain's breakthrough. Germany rarely give away such simple set-piece goals.

With the introduction of last-chance Mario Gomez, it was pretty clear that Germany had given up the ghost. Spain proved that they could defend as well in the final minutes, creating a solid barrier in their own area thanks to the aerial prowess of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, who had an excellent game.

So two teams who have never met in the tournament before face off in the final, and a new name on the honour roll is assured. The struggle will be an absorbing one, with Spain's greater technical assurance matched by Holland's outstanding organization and physical power in midfield. Not to be missed.

Love the article Mike, it's sure to be a final to remember and like you say a new name on the trophy. History being made too, first European country to win the tournament outside of Europe and of course, should Spain win it then the only undefeated team in the tournament NEW ZEALAND!!!!
Germany hardly touched the ball, whilst Spain passed it around between themselves for most of the game. The Spanish team were a lot better than Germany were last night, but the game was pretty boring to watch.
boring to watch!

It was fantastic. it was technically superb.

Fozzie was on the ball about both semis.

only one goal 9 should have been three) but much more gripping and a higher quality than the other.

I expect Spain to win well.

This will be good for the game.

I do hope we choose between a Frog or the Chile coach for our next coach
...The Spanish team were a lot better than Germany were last night, but the game was pretty boring to watch...

You reckon? I actually enjoyed it a lot more than the first semi, despite the lack of goals.
A very high quality game. Very enjoyable. The idea that Australia is supposed to compete with nations like this is laughable. I guess Germany's "final" was against Argentina. They seemed out of sorts against Spain.

Spain v Netherlands is tough. Both are teams that sit back and defend and trust their 1 striker and 3 attacking midfielders to score enough goals over 90mins to win. I think Spain are much sharper and skilled than the Dutch overall... but will Robben give us a few moments of "brilliance" against Capdevila?

I think Spain's technical ability will win this for them, 2-1

many people think Spain sit back and defend but they are ALWAYS probing.

Spain have discovered the best form of defence is POSSESSION.

Last night Les and Craig (who can often ramble) gave one of their best ever summations of football at its highest level.

Savvas Tzionis

You are right, "sit back and defend" was just lazy prose on my part. I would not call Spain defensive either. What I mean is that both the Netherlands and Spain hold their shape quite strictly and do not commit numbers forward. They seem to basically keep their back 4 and 2 DM's back and let the 3-1 do all attacking. They certainly hold possession and look to go forward but they do not over-commit in doing so.
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