Also Sprach Paul Der Krake: Did an Octopus Undo Germany

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Also Sprach Paul Der Krake: Did an Octopus Undo Germany
Joern Pollex/Getty Images

The life of Paul the Octopus may be in danger. His spell apparently undid Germany. Or did it? It might be more apt to say the German machine broke down, or at least didn't work quite as smoothly as would have been desired.

What was the undoing of Germany?

Quite simply, too much respect shown to the opponent.

Leading up to this match, the one time that Germany didn't quite look like themselves was in the match against Ghana, where they appeared somewhat tentative, apparently in fear of losing the game, having already lost to Serbia.

In that match though, the approach wasn't an all out defensive strategy. They probed Ghana with some deft and penetrating passes, directly through the middle and obliquely. It was a balanced approach, where caution was tempered with offense.

In this match, it was quite obvious that the strategy was to absorb Spain's pressure and then counter by quick, long balls and fast breaks. Problem was, Spain's triangular marking put paid to that plan. Spain was too well organized to be caught napping.

Germany may have shot themselves in the foot by playing contrary to nature.

What distinguished them in their previous matches was the fluidity with which they moved the ball from defense to the midfield, before slicing up the opponent's defense with diagonal passes in the last third of the field.

Of course, there's no guarantee that this manner of play would have worked against the well-drilled Spanish midfield and defense, but, at least, by tempering defense with attack like they did against Ghana,  they would have shaken off some of the pressure they were constantly under.

And again, by balancing defense with attack, they would have, in turn, put Spain under some pressure, perhaps winning corner kicks or set pieces in promising positions as a result.

Clearly, that was the most likely way for them to score.

But as it turn out, Germany barely had corner kicks or any dangerous set pieces.

In the last ten minutes of the first-half, Germany started pressing a little harder and  higher, apparently the game plan was to score before the break and then try to sit back in the second-half to defend. 

But again, Spain's triangular marking method, where three players zone in immediately on the possessing player of the opponent, stifled any real threat from the Germans.

Defensively, it didn't help that Germany used zonal marking rather than pressure marking in the match. Zonal marking has the attending weakness of causing a team to sit too deep in its own halve, thereby risking a through ball or an inadvertent tackle too near its 18 yard box or concession of a penalty kick.

And, of course, by defending too deeply, a team runs the risk of giving away too many corner kicks, and one of those is bound to score as happened in this case.

Pressure marking on the other hand, has the advantage of putting the possessing player of the opposing side under pressure, thereby forcing him to make quick decisions, which often results in errors commited. It is quicker to repossess the ball that way.

This worked for Paraguay, who looked more threatening against Spain than Germany did this match. Indeed, it resulted in a penalty kick for them, which in another circumstance,  could have won them their quarterfinal encounter against Spain.

It also worked for Switzerland, who finally pressured Spain into making a mistake and conceding a goal.

So what could have Germany done differently?

For one, they could have used pressure marking rather than zonal marking; and for another, they could have defended higher in the pitch even if not pushing too deep into Spain's halve. Yet again, they could have shown less respect to Spain by attacking more rather than sitting back too much to defend.

By using pressure marking as suggested above, they would have been able to close up more tightly spaces in the midfield, forcing Spain, as a result, to play more back-passes. And in addition, it would have denied Spain the leisure of holding the ball too long and making better decisions on and off the ball.

The approach Germany used in this match works in such tournaments as the Champions League, where you hold goal advantage and would not be undone by a draw or a single goal in the rematch. In this case, you are not playing to win.

In a situations as in this match, where you are playing to win, you only court disaster by using zonal marking. It worked for Internazionale against Barcelona at Nou Camp because Internazionale were not playing to win.

In fact, Mourinho claimed afterward that his team deliberately gave away possession to maintain their defensive shape. Clearly, Germany didn't have such a leisure in this match.

Psychology was always going to play a role in this game, and Spain held this advantage.

First, they have  a reputation as well-drilled, ball possessing side, who like Barcelona, press immediately to win back the ball when they lose it. This knowledge definitely affects the match strategy of their opponents.

Second, they held the advantage of having triumphed over Germany in the European Championship final a couple of years ago. This would have definitely created doubt in the Germans as well.

The psychological inferiority of the Germans was visible in the first 25 minutes of the game, with the Germans losing possession consistently in the midfield, preventing them from mounting counter-attacks on the rare occasions they had the opportunity to do so.

To overcome this, they needed to have done what they did against Argentina by coming out blazing and surprising the Spaniards, and probably rattling them in the process.

Of course, in the Argentina match, Germany had the psychological advantage, and little wonder they showed Argentina little respect if any.

Thirdly, perhaps it might have been better not to consult Paul the Octopus on this occasion.

Once you start down the path of superstition, it is difficult to deviate from it. Assertions that you do not really put stock in such superstitions often do not go beyond mere words. The psychological damage is often already inflicted.

Paul the Octopus may need a bodyguard tonight!

But enough with what could have been!

All things considered, this young German side gave a good account of itself, and the team can only grow stronger in the future. All things equal, they are more likely than not to win the third place match against Uruguay, not the ultimate prize, but not too bad a prize either.

Finally, though I'm no fan of Spain's brand of football, I still prefer attacking football any day, and that's what won the day. When Spain lock horns with the Netherlands on Sunday, it will be interesting to see which strategy triumphs.

I can't wait to find out.

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