Athletic Germany vs artistic Spain
GERMANY'S abrupt coming of age at this World Cup has caught almost everyone by surprise – everyone that is but their coach Joachim Loew. Written off as too inexperienced in the run-up to the finals, Loew's squad…
DURBAN GERMANY’S abrupt coming of age at this World Cup has caught almost everyone by surprise — everyone that is but their coach Joachim Loew.
Written off as too inexperienced in the run-up to the finals, Loew’s squad will kick off Wednesday’s semi-final against Spain as slight outsiders.
But it is testimony to the vibrancy of the performances Loew has overseen in South Africa that no-one will regard it as a major shock should it end Spain’s dream of lifting its first World Cup.
While outsiders thought theycould see significant weaknesses in a Germany squad rejuvenated by an influx of talent from the under-21 side that won last year’s European Championship, Loew always felt he would be leading a competitive group into Africa’s first World Cup.
“I’ve never doubted this team’s potential or development,” he said.
“They’ve shown a thirst for victory that is worthy of world champions.” Australian, England and Argentina — all of whom saw their own World Cup dreams shattered by four-goal thrashings at the hands of the Germans — will testify to that.
As well as coaxing some devastating displays from his players, Loew appears to run a happy camp, something that has not always been the case in the past, even with successful German squads.
“It’s a nice team,” he said.
“They like to learn, they’re very motivated and I’m very proud of them.
It has been a great experience, on and off the pitch.” While Germany’s performances have surpassed what was expected of it, Spain has not yet delivered a collective display equal to the sum of the individual talents in its ranks.
There is intense pressure, too, on a group of players weighed down by the burden of making up for decades of under-achievement on the international stage by a country whose domestic league has long been one of the strongest in the world.
The likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa will be acutely aware that, in terms of pure footballing ability, the unexepected demise of Brazil has left them head-andshoulders above the other teams left in the competition.
They know they will have squandered an opportunity that is unlikely to come again should they fail to go on and emulate the West Germany side that followed up their triumph at Euro 72 by becoming world champions on home soil two years later.
The Spanish have only once before been this close to World Cup glory.
In 1950, in Brazil, where only 13 countries took part, it made it to the final group stage, where a draw with the eventual champions Uruguay and defeats by Brazil and Sweden resulted in it finishing fourth.
In the Spanish camp however, suggestions that the intensity of expectation surrounding it could represent its Achilles heel are batted away, and its hope is that Germany will give it the opportunity to impose its quick-passing style on the match.
“We’ve had tough games against opponents who, above all, wanted to stop us playing,” said head coach Vicente Del Bosque.
“I think the semi-final will be different.
Both teams want to reach the final.
“We know we can play better than we have done so far, hopefully it will be an open match and a good advert for football.” Del Bosque has not changed his line-up for the last three matches and is set to keep faith with misfiring Liverpool striker Fernando Torres, who has struggled in a lone striker role while teammate Villa has plundered five goals from a deeper position on the left.
Germany though will still be wary of the striker who scored the only goal of the match when Spain beat Germany in the Euro 2008 final.
“It’d be nice to do it again, but it doesn’t matter who scores as long as we win,” Torres said.
Spain have no injury concerns while Germany will be significantly weakened by the loss of outstanding midfielder Thomas Mueller, who is suspended.
Loew has to decide between Hamburg attacking midfielder Piotr Trochowski and 20- year-old Toni Kroos as a replacement for a match in which one goal will see striker Miroslav Klose equal Ronaldo’s record of 15 in World Cup finals.
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