SEMIFINAL: Spain 1 – 0 Germany
Neither team played up to their potential, and both teams were maddening at times. Possession and set pieces were nearly even, and there were no cards handed out. But Spain outshot Germany 13 to 5, and in the end it was one lone shot of those 13 that mattered, when Carlos Puyol got his head to a corner from Xavi in the 74th minute.
The first half was not highly impressive. Spain controlled possession well for much of it, but weren’t really combining any solid push forward with their pass-pass-pass-pass-passing. There were a couple of chances – Puyol almost got that headed goal much earlier when he connected with Andres Iniesta’s cross into the box, and Spain had a good free kick opportunity around the 40th which they oddly wasted with a strange short effort from not far outside the 18 – but overall it was a quietly dominating first half from the Spanish. Germany did look dangerous a couple of times on the counter, but just weren’t seeing enough of the ball to put anything together. Piotr Trochowski made Iker Casillas work for a save on a good long-range effort, and Mesut Ozil had an opportunity to put pressure on the Spanish keeper as well, though he took a bit too much time with it. Just before halftime, Ozil went down in the box and the Germans were angling for a penalty, but the ref was having none of it (and rightly so).
So while both sides had their moments, they were just that, and as I said, neither seemed to be playing to their capabilities nor to the expectations of the public. The second half began much like the first, though Spain was showing a lot more life and saw a few good chances, with two just-wide efforts from Xabi and one from David Villa. Soon after, Manuel Neuer barely got his fingertips to a shot from Pedro, and Villa somehow missed a tap-in as Iniesta sent the ball across the goal mouth. Germany finally started putting forth a stronger effort near the 70th when substitute Toni Kroos found space and nearly put Lukas Podolski’s cross away, but for a great save from Casillas. Minutes later came the corner and Puyol’s goal, and subsequently whatever fire the Germans had mustered seemed to be flickering. There wasn’t much more to be seen from them, although there was the usual flurry of activity in stoppage time. But nothing came from it, and the team which dropped 4 on both Argentina and England were shut out by Spain and sent to the third-place match.
Were Germany unprepared for Spain? It would be hard to think so, as the Germans’ previous matches were strong showings, and as it’s not like they were unaware of what Spain was doing in their own games. Were they just tired and run down? One would think a team fueled with some young newcomers who brought speed and endurance to the side would be set to perform well through the month-long tournament. Is this just another case of “any given day”, with a dozen different outcomes possible from a dozen replays? I imagine the Germans aren’t eager to analyze their failings just yet, but that’s where blog commenters come in, right? Have at it!
And now we know who will battle at the final, and we also know that this year we’ll see a brand new winner of the World Cup. It’s a great story even if you have no specific allegiance or care about either Spain or the Netherlands – if you love this game, you’ve got to also love seeing its history happen before your eyes. Of course, for those who watched France topple Brazil in 1998 (which I did not, having not yet shrugged off my American indifference to the sport), it’ll be a familiar feeling, but I’m sure a welcome one even so.