Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tiki-taka halts Teutonic march to the final

FIFA World Cup semi-final - Spain 1:0 Germany
So in the end the Germans were human after all.

After a double demolition of England and Argentina which sent shockwaves throughout the soccer world, Joachim Low's lions were mown down by raging Spanish bulls.

Yogi was lost in the woods as Spain revived their Euro 2008 glory to hand him a sobering football lesson in Durban. Germany, so awesome in the knock-out stages that they had begun to acquire an unbeatable whiff, were cowed by the defiantly intricate passing of the European Champions, who persisted with their Beautiful Game in the face of the tournament's most dangerous outfit.

It was indeed a victory for football as the winners delighted at times and never resorted to a route one approach or launched the ball aimlessly out of defence. The Spanish allegiance to one-touch passing to feet rarely placed them in danger and ultimately had the desired effect of tiring out the chasing Germans physically, while their taking the game to them won the psychological battle.

Scoring first was key in the end as it prevented Germany playing their counter-attacking game which had speared England and Argentina so successfully. When the Germans did play on the rebound, Spanish bodies scuttled back and Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol held up the 'No Pasaran' banners.

After proving such a razor-sharp attacking force in previous rounds, the Germans were a blunt butter knife last night, limited to a single shot on target from substitute Toni Kroos. The suspension of Thomas Mueller had removed the Mannschaft's right-wing menace, but Bastian Schweinsteiger also failed to exert an influence, pinned back from advancing by the red shirts buzzing around him, while Mesut Ozil's rising star waned for a second match in succession.

Vicente del Bosque's tactical plan triumphed. Painfully aware how lethal Germany were on the break, he shrewdly dropped the sluggish Fernando Torres to add an extra body in the middle, with a twin shield between defence and midfield of Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets to block any German advances. Busquets in particular watched Ozil like a hawk and the passing in midfield from Alonso, Iniesta and Xavi was so crisp that Germany were left to chase.

In the event it was Spain's taking the game to Germany which handed them victory. They refused to be scared by Germany's previous results and their quick passing and commitment to possession in all areas of the field zapped their frightening opponents' venom.
"They are the masters of the game. You can see it in every pass. They can hardly be beaten," admitted Low ruefully.

German sub Marcell Jansen concurred: "Spain's organisation and tactics are in a different league," he said. "When they attack, the whole team comes forward, and when they defend, they all work together to keep it tight."

So many critics had hailed Germany's youth as the key to their winning, but the young guns of Deutschland were handed a footballing lesson by some old masters in Durban and put back in their place as a promising team of the future.

The spirit of 2008 breathes again. A beautiful team winning at the Beautiful Game. What is not to celebrate?

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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