Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy 4th of July...and then there were 4 - World Cup Semi Finals preview

Okay sorry for the poor play on the number 4. First happy independence day for all my American based fans. Of course there are 4 more teams left in the chase for the World Cup trophy as well. What is surprising or ironic or funny is how a few days ago all the talk was of the dominance of the South American nations. With Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay all finished top of their group add to the mix Chile who finished even on points with group winners Spain but were second due to goal difference and all 5 nations from the South American region were through to the final 16. Throw into the mix the United States and Mexico from CONCACAF reaching the final 16 and you saw a heavy "Americas" flavor to the final 16. Of course after a few games the Old Countries are back in a position of dominance with 3 out of the 4 semi finalists from Europe, and you could argue were it not an egregious hand ball or a missed PK and South America would have no representation in the final 4 teams. So let us look at the 2 matches to come this week:

Uruguay v Holland: Uruguay must consider themselves fortunate to have defeated Ghana in penalty kicks. After Suarez used his hands to save what was a certain goal from Ghana off the line in the 120th minute, and then seeing Gyan miss the subsequent penalty kick. Ghana dominated much of the match, getting a wonder blast from Mutari but also giving up a poor goal from a long distance free kick - again a goalkeeping error in my mind. However La Celeste did force their way into the semifinals playing solid defense and relying on Suarez and Forlan to carry the offensive push. Can this continue against Oranje? Not sure. The Dutch pulled off a minor upset by defeating the Samba Boys. After what appeared to be a one sided match against Brazil - the first 20 minutes looked like it would be a Brazilian route. However the Dutch weathered the storm and headed into the half only down 1-0. The second half it was clear that Brazil did not know how to react to the attack of Robben et al. Without offensive options outside of Kaka or the runs from the fullbacks, which were hampered because Bastos had to sit deeper to handle Robben and Maicon was controlled by Kuyt. Holland took their chances and could have scored another 2-3 goals after Melo was shown a straight, deserved, red card.

So who will come out of this semi final? I have to go with Oranje. Uruguay will be without Suarez, who represents 50% of their offense. The captain Lugano is most likely going to miss the game and Lodiero has a broken foot. On the Dutch side none of their key players are missing. The Dutch have not dropped a single game so far, winning all their matches. Granted they are not playing beautiful flowing "Total Football" of yesteryear, but they are doing what it takes to get the results. With so many key players missing for Uruguay I cannot see how they will be able to keep the Dutch in check for the full 90 minutes. Even if they try to play for extra time and penalties, I think that Robben will be too difficult to check and Sneijder is pulling the right strings in the middle of the park, throw in a late sub like Elia and there is too much creativity and pace for the Uruguayan defenders to hold off for the entire match. Holland 2 - Uruguay 0

Germany v Spain: For the 3rd match in a row, Germany will find itself in the middle of the most intriguing match up (After Germany v England and Germany v Argentina). Germany did have to go, on paper, through a very difficult gantlet of beating England and then the much fancied Argentine squad. What they did against both nations was surprisingly simple and effective. Playing a solid defense with quick strike counters they took apart both England and Argentina. Much of this revolved around, who I think is so far the player of the tournament, Schweinstager. The Bayern midfielder has done his best job mimicking Pat Vieira circa 1990s with Arsenal - a box to box central midfielder both destroying opposing team attacks and providing the link between the defense and the offense. He was able to stymie Messi and was key in the attack versus Argentina. The much heralded Argentine attack could never get going with the German midfielder slowing tempo, breaking up attacks and launching the German counter quickly and surgically. Spain's midfield, which is their strength, appears to be a little out of sorts. Xavi, Alonso and Iniesta have not looked as if they are on the same page at times, errant passes, poor runs etc. Torres still appears injured, he was a non factor against Paraguay. The South Americans also demonstrated that high pressure and energy can throw the Spaniards off their game, or at least not concede a goal!

So will the real Spain show up against the Germans? I hope so...but I still think we will have "90 minutes of football and then German wins." What will be interesting for Germany is how they handle the loss of Mueller - suspended for yellow cards - who has, next to his Bayern teammate, been the most important player for Germany the past few games. His pace, creativity and goals will be sorely missed. Of course with Klose and Podoloski Germany will have the pieces to find goals. The question for me is can Germany hold off a team that will attack with width, something they have not faced in this tournament. With Ramos and Capdevila making runs from their fullback positions, the Spanish will throw an offensive angle that Germany have really not faced yet. Also, unlike against Argentina, who will Schweinstager focus on - Iniesta or Xavi? In the 1/4 finals the Bayern player just followed Messi around, this time he will need to pick and choose who he shadows. Also, what if Spain, which is what I think they should do, starts a midfield of Cesc - Xavi - Iniesta, then who do you man mark? Of course German is content to sit back and absorb the Spanish attack, while Spain is content to hold the ball and pull and Arsenal - pass pass pass pass pass pass and try to pass the ball into the goal. This will not work against Germany. This will be a tight match, but in the the saying goes "90 minutes of football and then Germany wins.." Germany 2 - Spain 1.

Which would set up a monumental final - German v Holland. A long standing footballing rivalry, which would need no pregame hype! I would see Oranje ridding themselves of many years of ghosts and demons and defeating the Germans 3-2 in a memorable final! Jop Oranje!!!

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