Tuesday, July 6, 2010

World Cup Tomorrow: Wednesday, July 7

Edit: Do you realize that we effing called this game in December? Dear Lord. That almost makes up for the Brazil-England whiff we had in the other semi.

We sort of can’t believe that there are only two games left in this World Cup (the 3rd place game doesn't count). We’re not sure that we’re going to do when we no longer have the daily opportunity to be wrong about soccer. Probably we’ll just go back to being wrong about our fantasy baseball teams (THREE middle infielders on the DL at the same time? FML.).

Germany v. Spain

A rematch of the 2008 European Championships, a game that Spain mostly controlled, but only won 1-0. That no doubt sounds familiar to anyone who has watched the Spanish in the WC, where they have had more than their share of games where they dominated the ball and the field, but not the scoreboard.

Spain continue to be held back by the fact that they only have one guy (David Villa) capable of scoring. Their other forward, Fernando Torres, has played either poorly or ineffectually, and their best goal scoring midfielder, Cesc Fabregas, is dinged up and has had trouble getting onto the field given Spain’s absolutely ridiculous depth in the midfield.

Spain’s reliance on Villa is a problem, because Germany have been very good at taking away the other team’s best player in this tournament. They forced Argentina’s Leo Messi to drop way too deep to get the ball, smothered England’s best forward, Wayne Rooney, and held Ghana’s Assamoah Gyan scoreless without resorting to goal line handballs.

Given that, we have to imagine that German manager Jogi Loew and the rest of the German coaching staff (who, for some reason, continually attend matches dressed like The Kingsmen), will try to take Villa out of the equation, and force Spain to find goals from somewhere else.
We also expect that Germany will pressure Spain’s deep central midfielders much as Paraguay did. Paraguay’s pressure did a good job of disrupting the Spanish attack, at least until the Paraguayans ran out of gas. That won’t be a problem for this young German team, which (appropriately enough) appears to run on diesel.

We think the Spanish have two options here. One, they could run out their usual lineup, on the theory that their usual central-midfield-focused, ball-possession offense will stifle Germany’s counter-attacking game by denying them the ball entirely. In other words, Spain could run the equivalent of a Princeton offense to slow down the fastbreaking Germans. Given Spain’s success against Germany in ’08, we bet they’ll end up taking this tactic.

We, however, think they should consider going one step further, and tweak their lineup, benching the ineffective Torres in favor of Barcelona winger Pedro. Pedro should both give Spain the width that is has lacked, and put a little more speed on the field, both of which should help to corral the German counter-attacks down the flanks. The downside is that this move might require some sort of formation change, because Spain would be replacing a forward with a wide man. But Pedro was on the field for the deciding goal against Paraguay, so clearly they have some idea how to play with him on the field.

One more little non-tactical note before we get to the prediction. Germany have been the most impressive team in this tournament, routinely getting early leads and then running off to big wins. But because of that, we don’t really know whether or not they have a chin. They didn’t look good playing from behind against Serbia, but then, they were also a man down in that game. If Spain can get an early goal, it would be very interesting to see how Germany responded. (Of course, early goals are exactly what Spain has been unable to get in this tournament.) Similarly, we don’t even know if Germany tighten up late in a tie game, because nobody has managed to stay even with them for more than an hour. Spain, on the other hand, has sure seen a lot of those.

Prediction: Spain 1-0 Germany. A virtual replay of the Euro finals. The one caveat is that this German team has amply demonstrated that it knows how to play with a lead. If Spain give up an early one, this could turn into a goalfest.

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