The tension in our sweltering wooden cabin boiled the air and turbocharged the pulse. An exhilirating, timeless Semi-Final was being played out between two teams that are set to keep dominating the sport for the decade to come, Spain and Germany, simply Europe's two best teams in recent years, were playing for the right to play Holland in the final of the World Cup... Spain for the first time in their history, and Germany for the umpteenth.
Both teams are different and extraordinary for several similiar reasons. Both are young, both have invested massive amounts of care and well-placed funding into developing strong national teams, given their big clubs incentive to run successful youth programs, and both have revolutionized their style of play in recent years.
To the majority of the World's observing public, who did not watch Germany minute for minute, but only tuned in for the 4-1 (4-2) trashing of England, the 4-0 demolition of Australia, and the 4-0 demolition of Argentina, there was no question that the traditional German hegemony was going to prevail over what looked like a limp Spain.
The public opinion of the neutrals (discounting the Spaniards and Germans) in polls, forums, bars and public debates all around the globe favoured the progress and triumph of the German team... and few imagined a repeat of the 2006 European Championhip final comfortably won by Spain.
This was not going to be the case.
1. Sophisticated Complex National Team Programs - The Germans and Spanish both run very meticulous national team programs, significantly better than England and a little bit better than France's in terms of progressive evolution of players from the Under 17 level, through the Under 20 on to the national team in close collaboration with the top club in the respective countries and their youth programs.
Lesson learned: Modern football requires running a national team with the consistency of a club, and the same team-building approach... Capello, Domenech and Maradona failed to represent that approach.
2. Youth promotion in top clubs - 5 German players come from the Bayern Munich youth program, while the rest mostly come from Schalke, Dortmund, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Leverkusen or Werder Bremen. Spain is not very different in that respect with 8 key players originating from Barcelona, 5 from Valencia, 3 from Athletic Bilbao, 2 from Sevilla, 2 from Villareal, and 1 from Real Madrid. This allows the players to train together all year, going a long way to increase understanding, teamplay, and a common knowledge of tactics. It also make the selection process of players for the national teams easier, given that they perform in certain roles for their clubs which are identical in the national team... compare this to England which is forced to hire a foreign coach who forces players to play in role they are not accustomed two, alongside players who are unacustomed to playing with each other.
Lesson learned: England had players who play on the same club teams, but they didn't use them in pre-set configurations. Puyol and Pique play next to each other at Barcelona, while Terry and Upson do not even play the same type of defense. Capello should have used the Tottenham defence in its entirety.
3. Modern tactics - both Germany and Spain are employing very modern, very "top fashion" formations which are derivatives of the balanced 4-2-3-1 approach. Some of the elements which include very offensive wingers, two defensive midfielders with distinct tasks, and a combination of a fast and a high-jumping central defender gives a lot of tactical flexibility and is a hallmark of both teams.
Lesson learned: If you practice advanced player development, you can evolve sophisticated tactical elements in your setup which give you huge advantages over other teams. It takes massive time, and massive team-building... impossible for hastily thrown together team like Argentina.
4. Strong attack based on a solid defence - both Germany and Spain have in recent years played extrordinary brands of attacking fooball, and for Germany this is a revolutionary departure from their traditionally opressive bone-crunching playing style. For Spain the good technicians might have been there in the past, but a number of players who know how to win games like Iker Casilla, Carles Puyol, Xavi and David Villa has been making the difference for years. The three offensive midfielders supporting a designated striker is an attacking setup which gives many roads to the opponents goal, allows for greater freedom of movement, a better excercize of creativity, and takes away the focus on one goal-scoring star up front.
Lessons learned: 4-4-2 is conservative and on it's way out, the Germans and Spaniards manage to get that extra 1 or 2 players in the opponent's danger zone everytime than conervative France or England, much like the Brazillians with their 4-2-2-2 and the Argentines with their 4-1-2-2-1.
5. All 23 players on the team are there for a reason - Every sub, every player in both teams can bring something to the game, and everyone fits into the complex tactical setup in some way. Spain's Vincente Del Bosque and Jogi Low have both been highly successful at using subs... because all the substitutions are pre-set options that they can fall back on.
1. Barcelona and Valencia: While succesfull club team Valencia, Villareal and Barcelona were the core of the 2006 European Championship winning Spain, the recent continuous success of the Catalans has given them even more presence in the regular starting 11 of the Spanish national team. The fact that Bayern Munich has over-bought players and forced Klose, Podolski and players like Borowski (an important defensive midfielder not in the team due to lack of form) to the bench means that the same team-buliding is not happening to the same degree in the German camp.
Lesson learned: Build a national team on players who play together all year at the highest level and you will do well.... not saying that that is easy to find though....
2. Out-of-form players: Mario Gomez used to be a major force in Germany when he played for Stuttgart regularly, but his move to Bayern Munich and relegation to the bench clearly have hampered his ability. The same can be said for Klose, although it's hard to argue he didn't fulfill his potential this World Cup with 4 goals but he didn't disappearing unnoticed for long stretched in a number of games. Sami Khedira and Arne Friedrich are superb players, but both had trouble this season. In Spain the only real issue was Fernando Torres, and leaving him out against Germany was a good decision. Del Bosque left Senna, Guiza, Santi Cazorla, Pablo and other members of the 2006 team because they have been seriously out of form.
Lesson learned: Form is key to even the best players, and should never be under-rated.
3. Experience and success: At the end of the day the Spanish veterans made the difference. They won in the final in 2006, and were on hand to outplay Germany last night. Germany's young generation had too much to shoulder in such a high profile game, and lost their efficiency of past games against a more experienced opponent. All the Spanish had to do is pressure Schweinsteiger and Khedira and the German attack was not getting any service.
Lesson learned: Experience is important so that players can keep their composure in high-pressure matches and perform as well as in training against the best opponents... Carlos Puyol kept his head and used it to score the decisive goal.
Shots on goal: Germany 5 on and 3 off target - Spain 13 on and 8 off target
Most of Germany's few shots came at the end when they tried going on the offensive. Spain had a hard time getting to the goal and 13 is sufficient but not that high.
Fouls Committed: Germany 9 Spain 7
Very close, given that 3 Spanish fouls came in the last 4 minutes, while the Germans defended most of the game this is very balanced as a final result.
Possession: Spain 51% and Germany 49%
A deceiving stat, for most of the game Spain was at 58% but the Germans had most of it after the goal making it more equal at the end.
Offsides: Germany 2 and Spain 1
Both defences were far back and avoided the offsides trap.
Distance Covered: Germany 111,724 meters (7.980 avg) Spain 109,335 meters (7.810 avg)
Close, and shows the Germans had to run more to get into the rare offensive positions for most of the game, while Spain had the tactical integrity and initiative for most of it and benefited from the luxury of working less.
Xavi (12.321) and Alonso (12.119) ran the most for Spain logically, while Schweinsteiger (12.260 km) and Ozil (10.996 km) for Germany. This shows the greatest distance from defence that the Germans had to cover again.
Pass completion: 81% for Spain (590 of 731 completed) 75% for Germany (441 of 589 completed)
Here's the real difference. The Spanish manage to weave together many passes, especially when switching sides and trying different attacking angles against Germany.
Static versus Mobile Defending
The most visible element to viewers was that the Germans were in a conservative defensive shell for much of the first half and parts of the second, and had to work a lot more to get out of their defensive posture into an offensive one. This positional defence was a response to Spain offensive ability which put Germany on the back foot, while Spain managed to successfully implement a lighter defensive posture.
The True Possession Game: A Spanish Hallmark
Spain passes and keeps the ball in the opponent's half, which forces them to have a great distance to counterattack, while giving Spain the initiative for most a game. Against Germany they managed this better than for much of the tournament, and it was the decisive advantage, made possible by well integrated players like Xavi, Sergi Busquets and Xavi Alonso who play so well together.
The benefit of Pique and Puyol playing together for Barcelona, means they have rehearsed set pieces like the one that resulted in the goal. Pique blocked the defending Khedira, and the shorter Puyol had all the time and space to score a perfect header.... synchornization best achieved through playing together.
2 Uncalled Penalties
Twice Spanish players were clearly felled in the box, and twice no penalty was whistled by Viktor Kasai the Hungarian referee. The first was a Xabi Alonso incurling cross to Sergio Ramos, who was brought down by Podolski with no intention of going for the ball and the second was a breakaway Pedro hooked on the leg by Arne Friederich in a late Spanish counterattack.
Furthermore, his linesmean got 2 more offsides decisions against Spain wrong.
Three Years Ahead
Importantly the Spanish team is older, and its likely that this World Cup is their professional peak before a forced rebuilding will start. Germany has a team which barely clears 22 on the average, which means that in 3-5 years if they continue this program they will be truly unstoppable, just like Spain has been now.
The Men of the Match
Xavi is the man of the match for his tireless marshaling of Spain in midfield, his excellent (best) passing ratio, and his tempo setting for the Spanish team.
Carles Puyol is the runner up, for his goal and superb defensive input when the Germans threatened.
German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer gets an honourable mention for his 13 saves, including two very clear opportunities from the dangerous David Villa.
Vincente Del Bosque's decision to constantly press Schweinsteiger and Khedira in the German midfield, meant that they couldn't mount the offensive game that they managed to againt England, Argentina and Australia... his decision to rest Fernando Torres was important, as Pedro played significantly better, adding a lot of danger and energy to the Spanish offense. He took a risk with his substitutions, that would have cost him if the Germans forced extra time.
Jogi Low did well all things considered, but his loyal choice of Trochowski over the excellent Marin was a 50-50 call, and its possible the young and talented right winger would have better replaced Thomas Mueller against Spain.... he basically selected a more disciplined player, more cautiously which gave the German team no element of surprise, and made the absence of Thomas Mueller clearly felt. Mario Gomez was a poor substitution, Kroos and Marin should have played more time... Jansen should have been a starter the whole tournament perhaps.
Miroslav Klose failed to move sufficiently in offence, maybe sitting on the fatigue and laurels of his achievement against Argentina.
Mesut Ozil failed to mount the amount of attacks the he managed in previous games, maybe because of the abscene of his partner Thomas Mueller, perhaps because the service from behind was too rare and low quality.
Sami Khedira failed to materialize offensively in this game, and was forced on the defensive for most of it.
1.Iker Casillas - Like a true champion made a crucial save late in the game, calmly, and showed off his superb throwing ability with a 50 meter toss to restart the Spanish attack straight afterwards. Otherwise didn't have so much work. 7.0
3.Gerard Pique - A fantastic game and a fantastic partnership with Puyol. 8.0
5. Carles Puyol - Superb.... the Fabio Cannavaro of this World Cup although Spain is too good going forward for him to get the golden boot he deserves. 9.0
6. Andres Iniesta - a weak mistake prone day for him. Was dangerous two or three times but looked tired. 6.5
7. David Villa - dangerous but no goal. 7.5
8. Xavi - a fives star performance in defence, offense.... virtually running the game on the pitch. The Spanish midfield general has been superb this tournament. 9.5
11. Joan Capdevila - statistically one of the best players of the tournament. He is a no nonsene, consistent and highly effective player. 7.5
14. Xabi Alonso - still hasn't mastered the Jambulani to show off his superb long-distance shooting but was excellent today. 8.0
15. Sergio Ramos - so dangerous that he forced a German sub. Was fouled by Podolski for a penalty that wasn't called and could have scored twice. Superb in defence. 9.0
16. Sergio Busquets - incredibly mature and composed for his age... superb game in the Spanish controlling midfield for him. 9.0
18. Pedro - dangerous on 4 occassions, was fouled late in the game by Friedrich and that should have been a penalty. 8.5
9. Fernando Torres- came on in the 81st for Villa and did his job well managing to be dangerous once, but still in poor form. 7.0
21. David Silva - a great entrance, Silva managed to maintain a danger in the German backline after he came on in the 85th for Pedro. Effective despite short playing time. 8.0
4. Carlos Marchena - too little time for this defensive sub for Xabi Alonso in the 90th. N/A
Vincent del Bosque - An excellent performance, although took some risks late with his subs, which luckily didn't backfire. 8.0
1. Manuel Neuer - saved Germany from a worst result which was highly possible, especially with his 1 on 1 against Villa in the first half which would have been a carbon copy of the Torres goal in the 2006 final against Lehmann. 8.5
3. Arne Friedrich - good defending, but fouled Pedro in the box in the 84th and was lucky not to concede a penalty. 7.5
6. Sami Khedira - defended, but never managed to put the momentum into the German midfield as in previous games. Failed to mark Puyol for the goal. Was dangerous once in a good run into the box. 6.5
7. Bastian Schweinsteiger - for the first time in this tournament, the opponents marking was too much for him, and the creative heart of the German midfield simply didn't pump enough quality forward. What few opportunities happened, were because of his passing though. 8.0
8. Mesut Ozil - the absence of Thomas Mueller seemed to affect him, and he didn't make enough runs today. Dangerous when with the ball, although those instances were rare... good experience for him. 7.5
10. Lukas Podolski - forced a dangerous save on Casillas, but this forward player spent most of the day in defence. He fouled Sergio Ramos for what could have been a penalty. 7.5
11. Miroslav Klose - too little work input, too little danger, too little defensive input. 6.0
15. Piotr Trochowski - never settled into the team and failed to replace Mueller - 5.5
16. Philipp Lahm - his passing was the most effective of the German team, and managed to get Germany out of defence once or twice. He got tangled by Iniesta and Villa once or twice though and this was not enough from the German captain. 6.5
17. Per Mertesacker - highly underrated, this tall, fast central defender makes scoring against Germany a hard task. 7.5
20. Jerome Boateng - ran very little, his inexperience was evident against the even younger Pedro, and the concerned German coach subbed him early. 5.5
2.Marcell Jansen - Came on for Boateng in the 52nd and improved the left defence... despite failing to get forward very much. 6.5
18.Toni Kroos - Very dangerous on set pieces and added a lot of value and power to the German attack after coming on for Trochowski in the 62nd... this prodigy should have started more in the tournament, and could have well played from the first minute today. 7.5
23.Mario Gomez - A substitution I will never understand... in the 80th minute this very out-of-form player who just doesn't have the winning attitude anymore was introduced for Khedira instead of the more interesting Marin, Cacau or Kiessling. He did little, and failed to be dangerous for the umpteenth time this tournament as often for Bayern Munich. 4.0
Joachim Low - Mediocre substitutions and a timid starting lineup... from a manager who's brilliant risk taking has paid off so well this tournament. 5.0 on the day but one of the best managers in South Africa regardless.
Referee Team led by Viktor Kasai - missed two penalties for Spain, but called a very tight yet flowing game otherwise. Offsides was too strict from the blone linesman on the German half first half. 7.0