I’m very excited about the semi-finals, because I think this World Cup hangs in the balance. There’s less inevitability about these four teams than any cup I can remember. Any of these teams could win it. I’d put the Germans first on current form, fitness, and national football character; the Spaniards second on talent and guile; the Dutch third on efficiency and good luck; and the Uruguayans fourth, well, for a lot of reasons.
Germany absolutely dismembered Argentina in the quarter-finals. Crushed them. Argentina over-relied on individual dribbling and Germany just closed them down. Schweinsteiger was huge, both defending Messi et al., and coming forward. Despite what some lazy commentators have said and written, it wasn’t a cliched “well-oiled German machine”; it was something much more fun to watch than that. They move off the ball incredibly well, so there is always someone in space ready to receive a pass. They create space with their pace and good ball skills. They have a number of excellent finishers. And they are really young and bright; one of the youngest teams in the tournament. They are scoring a lot of goals.
Coming into their semi-final with Spain, they are going to be without Muller, who has been awesome. They probably have multiple adequate replacements for him, but I think they will miss something psychologically and also tactically. He’s been making a lot of chances in front of goal and finishing with confidence.
Spain, meanwhile, looked pretty ordinary against a tough Paraguay they barely beat. You could argue that Paraguay beat themselves, with the missed penalty, the conceded penalty, and several missed chances in front of goal. Once again, as against Portugal, they got one moment of brilliance (Xavi springs Iniesta, who finds Pedro on the right), and Villa once again gave them the slimmest of victories. They have a tactical choice to make: do they play Fabregas on the left instead of Torres, and move Villa in toward the center; or do they bring in Llorente as a straight swap for Torres? In any event, they have to get Torres out of there — Spain have looked much better when he’s out.
Germany won’t have the same advantage against Spain they had against Argentina — Spain have much better midfielders and much better wide defenders, and they pass rather than dribble. I think this comes down to some key matchups: Lahm and Ozil vs. Capdevilla and Pujols; Podolski counter-attacking on the left when Ramos comes forward; and Xavi/Iniesta vs. the German central defense.
On the other side of the bracket, the Dutch have to be very confident going into the Uruguay match. If anything, they may be vulnerable to thinking ahead to a juicy rematch of the ’74 final won by the host Germans with Beckenbauer 2-1 against Johann Cruyff’s total football Netherlands. Certainly, they believe they have a great shot at the final. Contrary to a lot of the punditry, I thought the Dutch played pretty well against Brazil. Brazil dominated the first half, but after the own goal (now credited to Sneijder) they fell apart and Holland threatened them multiple times. After the second goal, the Dutch dominated. Brazil’s strategy of hacking Robben down backfired — Holland got multiple free kicks and ultimately, got Melo sent off.
[There has been a hue and cry about Robben’s “simulation.” I think this is bullshit. He sold it when he was legitimately fouled — he wasn’t diving. This is a daily activity in the NBA. Ok, he made it seem like he was getting killed, when perhaps he was just the victim of some physical play, but it wasn’t cheating. ]
That’s not to say Holland are without flaws. Their back line looked really old and slow at times, and without De Jong (out on suspension) there to win balls upfield, they will be vulnerable to Forlan charging forward from his deep positioning. They still haven’t fully involved involved Van Persie in the attack.
Who knows what is going on with Uruguay after that crazy quarter-final against Ghana. I didn’t give a shit about either of these teams, and I was freaking out at the end of that match. The 120th minute surge by Ghana, the sending off, the missed penalty, and then the shoot-out ending on that cheeky chip. It was nuts. By the way, Suarez didn’t cheat, either. He intentionally handled a ball in the box, and got sent off for it and a penalty awarded. That’s the rules. Now, should he have gotten a long ban to avoid incentivizing others in the future? Absolutely. If I ran FIFA, I’d ban him for the rest of the tournament and maybe more.
Uruguay are playing much better than it looks. They are tight at the back and creative up front. I just think they are really going to miss Suarez against Holland. They need someone to complement Forlan up front. But Forlan himself is probably one of the best strikers in this tournament. He provides something that Holland doesn’t really have in this tournament.
I think Germany beats Spain 2-1, but I’d actually be sad if that happened, since I don’t want to see the Germans in the finals, despite how attractively they are playing. I want to see a first-time champion, and the Germans in the final complicate that possibility. Regardless, I think this is going to be a total chess-match.
I think Holland beats Uruguay 1-0. This could be a very negative match if the Dutch don’t have a strong cutting edge in attack. I could see this one going to extra time. The wild card for me is that I think Uruguay are playing with the house’s money at this point in the tournament — they’d go home to a hero’s welcome even if they lose. The Dutch public is smelling the cup — a chance to reverse their historical legacy as the best team never to win a World Cup. They are under a lot more pressure. I think that will even the odds considerably for Uruguay.