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The Cup Running Over


June 26, 2010 5:09 PM

Germany-England Preview: Germany Has the Edge, As Usual

GERMANY

The Good News: A strong team with an even stronger pedigree that has the ability to score early and often. Germany may have the best under-25 group of players in the tournament and it plays freely in a style that would be unrecognizable to the old German teams.

The Bad News:
Like most young teams (and this is Germany's youngest since 1934), the Germans are inconsistent. They scored four goals against the Australians, then only one in their next two games. At times, they've looked vulnerable to counter-attacks. Midfield mainstay Bastian Schweinsteiger is hobbling. There are also concerns about keeper Manuel Neuer, as he was the team's third-string keeper less than a year ago but got promoted due to the death of the number one keeper and an injury to his replacement.

Pedigree:
It doesn't get any better, even for Brazil. Third and second at the last two Cups, the Germans have been to an astonishing ten semifinals and seven finals. They haven't failed to reach the quarters since the Cup went to its current format in 1986. And, they have never lost a penalty shootout at a World Cup.

Player to Watch:
When Mesut Ozil, the Germans' young midfielder, is in gear, so is the team. The English strategy will be to mark him closely.

To Win: Fabio Capello has England playing very conservatively If the Germans can score, say, more than once -- which shouldn't be that hard against a weak English defense, they should win.




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 If it goes to penalty kicks, can David James change English fortunes?



ENGLAND

The Good News:
Despite a weak defense on paper, Capello has the English playing so conservatively that they seldom conceded in the first round -- one goal, thanks to Robert Green. If Wayne Rooney could ever get going, the team does have an offensive threat.

The Bad News:
No offense so far -- two goals in three games in a pretty weak group. And, on paper, the English are very weak at the back, especially at the wings -- a liability a team like Germany should be able to exploit.

Pedigree: Pretty bad. The English won the Cup at home in 1966 and have only been to one semifinals since. Other than in 1966 at home, the teams they've beaten in the knockout round are Paraguay, Belgium, Cameroon, Denmark and Ecuador; Germany is far above that class. They've famously never won a penalty shoot out at the World Cup. And their history against the Germans is spotty, to say the least, even though the rivalry is fierce.

Player to Watch: Unless Rooney gets going, England is going home.

To Win: England needs to continue its defensive success at the tournament, meaning no David James errors in goal and no bonehead plays at the back. The Germans will press the English far more than any of their three previous opponents did, so England must step up its game accordingly.


Prediction: A great matchup, especially for the English tabloids. ("Herr We Go Again," headlined the Star, "It's War!" read the Star.)  A victory is certainly not beyond England's grasp since this German team uncharacteristically makes mistakes, especially at the back. But it will require an error-free performance from an English team that historically is less than consistent. Like many of the games so far, this one may be decided by the ref, in this case,Jorge Larrionda of Uruguay, who has dismissed a player in an astounding 70% of games he has refereed since making his international debut as an official a little more than a decade ago. If it goes to penalties, history says the Germans win even though this is a different type of German team that even missed a penalty in the second game against Serbia. But, as Marina Hyde wrote this week in the Guardian, "In a world that has changed bewilderingly in recent decades, England losing to Germany in major tournaments is one of the few certainties." Just don't mention the war.

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