2010 FIFA World Cup: Germany vs. Spain, the Battle of the Midfields
"Tikka Takka" vs "Teamgeist"
Spain swept every one before them in the 2008 European Championship with a modern and controlled form of football based around a few midfield maestros. The German team defeated in Vienna that day had no such player, or rather they had no such tactical genius.
On Wednesday, the two teams meet again for a chance to play in the World Cup Final. For most, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and now the tournament favourites face the tournament surprise package.
Two years on, and Spain are a very similar side to that championship-winning team. Few players have changed, and they still play their unique brand of football, which relies on the brilliance of Xavi, Iniesta, and Alonso.
Iker Casillas remains first choice goalkeeper for Spain. He has not been as commanding as he is capable for Spain this World Cup and has appeared to lack confidence in his ability to catch the tricky Jubulani. That said, he has proven his pedigree on the highest stages and he is capable of brilliant reflex saves.
The Spanish defence is a cause of many footballing debates. Some maintain that it is very strong, but there are those who find flaws.
The wing-back Sergio Ramos is physically very imposing and quick. He likes to attack, but this means that sometimes he is found wanting defensively. When in defensive positions, his physical attributes are key to winning challenges.
Capdevila holds the other wing-back position and he is a solid if unremarkable player. When Spain are dominating, he will stride forward to offer width and he is fairly sound defensively.
The Spanish centre-backs are widely considered to be the Spanish weak point.
Carles Puyol has lost a few yards of pace since the European Championships and Gerard Pique looks more solid than he is. They are both fairly competent. Let's be clear, the Spanish weak link is still rather strong, but those who saw Hugo Almedia outpace and out-strength the two of them might see cause for concern.
There is little to add regarding the Spanish midfield that is not trite and cliché. They are very good, when they link up they look like world beaters. I myself do not understand why Busquets is favoured over Fabregas, who is capable of what he does and more, but I am biased by a dislike of him. Those wondering why, watch him play a game, and watch him clutch his face in his hands and feign injury. (Not confined to the Champions League)
The Iberian attack is a mixed bag at this time.
Fernando Torres has not found any form since his lay off, but David Villa has done the work of two strikers. Villa is currently the top scorer of the tournament and will be the danger man Germany look to nullify.
Ultimately, Spain are a highly disciplined and capable team, stuffed full of stars, who are capable of beating any team in the world on their day.
The tournament dark horses have stunned their critics by trouncing England and Argentina with stylish performances. Unlike their Spanish opposition, Germany have undergone wholesale changes to their lineup and to their philosophy since 2008.
Gone are ground out victories and in are all-out attacking moves revolving around midfield fulcrum Bastian Schweinsteiger.
The German keeper position is filled by international rookie Manuel Neuer. He has, so far, been largely untested due to the quality of his defence, his only save of note coming against Steven Gerrard one-on-one. Like Casillas, his handling has been suspect but he deals with awkward bouncing balls well.
The German defence had been cited as their weakness, but so far that has been unfounded.
Phillip Lahm marshalls those around him to great effect and stand-in left-back Jerome Boateng has shone. He may well go to Manchester City demanding a starting spot following this World Cup.
In between these two marauding defenders lie Per Mertesacker and Arne Freidrich. These two relative unknowns have shackled Tim Cahil, Asmoah Gyan, Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain to name a few. These two have both impressed, and so far have overcome criticism regarding their pace en route to keep three clean sheets from five games.
The German midfield machine has evolved to Spanish like levels of efficiency, creativity and output.
Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger are quickly becoming one of the most potent midfield duos around, while the three attacking midfielders keep Germany's opponents in constant fear of quick, precise and organised counter-attacks.
Up front only one man has had any real game time, and that man is tournament specialist striker Miroslav Klose. He is a real enigma, following a dour club season spent largely on the bench, Klose is hot on David Villa's goal tally—four goals to Villa's five. Should Klose score against Spain, he will be joint atop World Cup scorer ever with Ronaldo.
It would take a brave man to bet against him scoring at the moment, he has found his form at the right time, and his unselfish type of play means that defenders cannot mark him out the game due to his ability to play in the onrushing German midfield.
This game is balanced on a knife-edge. Spain has some of the foremost superstars on the planet, and the German team is based around some of the best potential around.
Expect this to be won or lost in midfield, where both teams will look to get to grips with the other and unbalance the other's intricate passing game. There will be some intriguing match-ups and a real quality on show. Hope for a classic.
The Spanish beat the Germans at Euro 2008, but this is a very different Germany side, who will still be aching for revenge. Spain has gotten this far by winning tight games, which requires strong nerves, but I think that Germany's momentum might just prove too much for the Spanish defence, though I would be very surprised if either team kept a clean sheet.
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