Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Spain v Germany

Well, I was wrong to imagine that once again the Europeans would fail to thrive outside their own continent; though I was perhaps more on the money when I picked the Dutch as my dark horses.

The Latin Americans flattered to deceive in the early stages of this Mundial. They were playing the more exciting attacking football (Germany excepted), but none of them had actually overcome higher ranking opposition before they were eliminated.

The Germans go into today's semi-final with even their famous psychic octopus having deserted them. (Joachim Löw still has his lucky blue sweater though.)

Spain were the tournament favourites a month ago, but a succession of teams have demonstrated how easy it can be to thwart them simply by staying in their own half.

Therein lies the problem for the Krouts, who have reached this stage by counter-attacking against reckless teams with suspect back lines; and in the case of England and Argentina, teams without a professional defence in the normal sense of the term. Surely the same set of tactics won't work against the European champions?

This match has the makings of a classic. As for the final, those of us hoping for a blood and guts encounter are probably going to have to hope the Germans triumph today.

My earliest World Cup memories are of the latter stages of the 1974 tournament which were graced by the wondrous Dutch team of Johan Cruyff et al. Then, heartbreakingly, total football was taken down by the Germans in the Munich final.

Four years later the Dutch lost again in the Buenos Aires final to an Argie team that shouldn't even have been there: the junta led by Videla is widely believed to have bribed the government of Peru to make their team lose 0-6, thus permitting the hosts to advance to the final on goal difference ahead of Brazil. Cruyff didn't even turn up to that World Cup, in protest against the dictatorship and its practice of chucking people out the back of aeroplanes over the South Atlantic.

Now they've made it to the final once again, quite against the expectations of their own FA who have been desperately seeking new hotel accommodation this week. It's not a particularly loveable Holland eleven: they tend to win ugly as the Americans say. Indeed, in doing so they also tend to play ugly and in a number of notable cases, even look ugly. But with that win over the last of the Latins in the semis, Holland has now set a new record of 14 consecutive World Cup victories through qualification and the main event.

A Germany v Holland final would be tasty because of all the historical baggage, both on and off the football pitch...a proper hate match along the lines of Brazil v Argentina or indeed, Guatemala v Mexico.

Two years ago the Germans almost thwarted the Spanish in the final of Euro2008. On that day the Spanish needed Fernando Torres playing at his best to break the deadlock, something they are unlikely to be able to count on tonight. Their best hope is that the Germans refuse to imitate the approach of the other bus-parkers they've come across in South Africa and give them an open game in which their midfield can ticky-tack the ball around joyfully until David Villa pops up to score one of his super goals.

Holland are often referred to as the greatest footballing nation never to have won the World Cup, though the Spanish might disagree with that. In my lifetime the competition has only been won twice by a team that wasn't a previous champion: Argentina in '78 and France in '98, both host nations. Enough has been said about how the Argies achieved their first victory. The French didn't cheat, but they had some spectacular luck along the way. It would be nice to have a new name on the list of world champions next Sunday evening, but if the Germans end up winning, you'd have to say that they've done so on merit.

No comments: