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The Cup Running Over


July 6, 2010 6:02 PM

Germany-Spain Semifinal Preview: Germany Has the Edge, But Not By Much

In a Nutshell: A clash that many think could be the real final -- between what many consider the two best teams left in South Africa. They met in the final of Euro 2008 and Spain won 1-0, in a scoreline that flattered the outclassed Germans.

Previous History:
They've met three times at the World Cup (1966,1982, and 1994), with the Germans winning two and tying one. That's hardly surprising given that one team has been synonymous with World Cup achievement and the other with under-performance.

What We Learned Last Game: Germany is still on a rampage, utterly destroying good teams. And Spain is still squeaking by -- as teams play ultra-defensively to stop them.


GERMANY


Record and Goals: 4-1, 13 goals scored, two allowed.

The Good News: So far, a young powerhouse -- at least when it's on. It can score waves of goals, led by midfielders Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller, and bolstered up front by the ageless Miroslav Klose, who has now scored more goals at this World Cup than he scored all season long. While occasionally shaky, the defense has been OK, as has keeper Manuel Neuer.

The Bad News:
Muller is suspended for this game and his absence may unsettle the whole team. The Germans have been inconsistent -- so much so that they lost to Serbia and edged Ghana. The defense is not world-class, not that it's had to be with this kind of scoring. Paul, the German psychic octopus, picks Spain.

Pedigree:
Doesn't get any better. This is Germany's 11th semifinal in 19 World Cups (including this one).

Player to Watch:
Muller's replacement will be key, as he's been involved in more goals (either as a scorer or provider) than anyone else in the tournament -- a remarkable occurrence given that he wasn't even going to play until a few months ago. If manager Joachim Low opts for youth, he'll go with Marko (The Matchbox) Marin or Toni Kroos. The more experienced replacement is Piotr Trochowski. But whoever gets the nod will be under intense pressure and the other midfielders will have to make adjustments. Keep an eye too on Philip Lahm -- if he isn't attached to David Villa on defense, the Germans are in trouble 

Telling Stat:
Germany is the first team since Brazil in 1970 to score four goals in a game three times.

To Win:
As we said yesterday, at this point in the tournament, the tendency is always to advise teams to keep doing what they've been doing so far. The key for Germany, obviously, will be to slow down Villa, Spain's MVP so far. That means that more than in its other games, a German victory this time is largely dependent on how well the defense performs. The feeling here is that if the Germans can hold the Spanish to a goal or less, their offense is good enough to win the game.



capdevilaconlaquotro_225312.jpg

For Spain to advance, its defenders such as Joan Capdevila need to keep having an outstanding tournament.




SPAIN


Record and Goals: 4-1, six goals scored, two allowed.

The Good News: This team has the striker of the tournament -- David Villa. And an all-star midfield too, not that you'd know it from the performances so far. It's probably time to stop writing about Spain's weak defense: Through this Cup and Euro 2008, this team has allowed five goals in 11 games. Iker Casillas, the keeper, is world-class. Playing two holding midfielders helps too.

The Bad News: Except for Villa, the offense has seemed out of sync in South Africa, though it's hard to tell if that's due mostly to Spanish under-performance or opponents who just "park the bus." Striker Fernando Torres has been a bust and so has the team whenever he's in a game; going to five midfielders against Paraguay (and one striker) seemed to work. The  problem? Super-sub Cesc Fabregas who would play that fifth midfielder role is hurting. The team sometimes finds it hard to develop a Plan B when Plan A doesn't work, leaving it to late in games.

Pedigree: Perhaps the world's leading under-performer, given the talent level. If Spain wins this game, it will go to its first World Cup final. It was in the semis in 1950, albeit under a much different Cup format.

Player to Watch: Other than Villa? Spain's defense hasn't really been tested as most teams have chosen to play them ultra-conservatively. The Germans won't play that way.. 

Telling Stat: According to the Castrol index, three of the top four rated players at the Cup so far are Spanish defenders -- Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, and Joan Capdevila.

To Win: Shut down Ozil and the marauding German midfield. Don't concede free kicks in the zone. Strike accurately on the counter. Score first, as this is a much different team when it has to play from behind.


Prediction: Expect Spain to attack and Germany to counter. And, even though both are offensive powers the game will probably come down to which defense can stifle the other better. Six months ago, Spain would have been the clear favorite -- just as it was two years ago. But it has not played well in South Africa while Germany has. If that continues, Germany wins here, as pedigree dictates form. Scoring first will be key.


If It Goes to Penalties: Germany is unbeaten in World Cup shootouts (4-4). Spain has been in three shootouts, and has won once. It's hard to envision Germany's losing if these are the circumstances but there's always a first time.

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