Friday, July 2, 2010

World Cup Tomorrow: Saturday, July 3

Back on the scene! We had to punt on today’s games, sadly, though that probably worked out OK for us, because we did not see that Dutch win coming. But we can at least opine on the remaining two quarterfinal games, one of which threatens to be an instant classic, and the other of which involves Paraguay.

Argentina v. Germany (10 AM ET)

Get up early on Saturday to watch the two highest-scoring teams in the tournament face off. Argentina have skipped lightly through the tournament to this point despite still not getting any goals from Leo Messi. But despite all the good karma and happy Diego Maradona reaction shots on the sidelines, the team has looked a little creaky at the back. Argentina are essentially running out a three-man defense of Gabriel Heinze, Walter Samuel (when healthy) and Martin Demichaelis. Heinze has impressed, but the other two have had moments of panic induction, especially when paired up against faster attackers. This is pretty much to be expected, because all three of those guys fundamentally are central defenders, used to being part of a central pairing in a 4-man defense, where their job is to defend against aerial attacks from big guys, not speedy runs.

We’re not criticizing the tactical call by Maradona—the 3-man defense is the only way to accommodate all his attacking options. It also effectively closes off the middle, which has helped Argentina avoid giving up the sort of Route 1, punt-down-the-middle-initiated goals that we’ve seen the USA, England, Holland, and others surrender in the WC. But the formation does leave them a little vulnerable to speed up the sidelines, where fast wingers can get isolated on slower Argentine defenders, and look to take them off the dribble. Argentina haven’t really been burned on this yet, mainly because their own wingers have pinned the other team’s possible attackers back in their own end.

That might change against Germany, who showed off their deadly speed on the counter-attack against Scotla…err, England in the round of 16. Germany really do have the pace to trouble Argentina on the outside, though we’d imagine that otherwise talismanic striker Miloslav Klose might have a tough day unless the outside guys pull Argentina so wide that he gets room to operate in the middle. Of course, the Germans have had their own periodic foibles at the back, giving up two (well, one on the scoresheet, but two in reality) goals in the brief 15 minute window when England managed to set up shop in the Germany half.

Expect Argentina to have more of the ball in this game, and to find the back of the net at least once. The game will turn on whether that goal comes early (allowing them to either sit back or bring in functional 4th defender Jonas Gutierrez off the bench) or late, after they’ve pushed forward far enough to give Germany chances on the counter.

Prediction: Honestly, we don’t know. We’ll say Argentina 2-1 Germany for the record.

Spain v. Paraguay (2:30 PM ET)

And then there’s this. Paraguay got here by strangling the Japanese like a dolphin in a drift net. They have scored 3 goals in 4 games, and put up a goose egg against New Zealand. They are dull, and will do everything shy of crowbarring the Spanish in an effort to contain them.

Spain should be somewhat used to those tactics after their recent win over Forca Portugal. Spain have had a tough time finding their way through 10-man defenses in this tournament (the Portugal game went down to the wire, and the Swiss of course managed to defend their way to a win), mainly because David Villa is the only man who can seem to score for the Spanish. But, shit, Paraguay couldn’t score against New Zealand, and Iker Casillas would give Spain the edge if this one went to PKs.

Prediction: Spain 2-0 Paraguay

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