Semis and Finals

I wasn’t surprised to see Holland defeat Uruguay; as I have repeatedly stated from the start, I expect the Dutch to claim the Cup due to their talent, teamwork, and discipline. However, Uruguay put up a great fight and also battled very hard against Germany in the third-place game. Much to my surprise, the Uruguayans became my favorite team to watch over the course of the tournament.

I was surprised that the Spanish managed to beat Germany, but in retrospect it should have been obvious because Spain has the advantage of starting essentially the same midfield that plays together for Barcelona whereas Germany’s midfield is much stronger on the attack than they are in retaining possession of the ball. This high level of familiarity is a huge advantage at the international level, where there is often the personnel problem of two premier players who happen to play basically the same role on their club teams, as is the case with Gerrard and Lampard of England. I assume this is why Ces Fabregas of Arsenal sits on the bench; it’s not that he’s not good enough to start at this level, but starting him would sacrifice one of Spain’s biggest advantages.

That being said, the Netherlands are better at the back and more disciplined than the Germans, whose 5 goals, (really 6, given Lampard’s non-goal), superficially look the same as the five given up by Holland, but two of those goals, by Uruguay and Brazil, came after the Dutch had already won the game and visibly relaxed. They also have a ball-controlling midfield that matches up better with Spain’s. I do very much dislike their tendency to coast at the end of the game when they have the lead, which appeared again in the semifinal and is probably the best reason to pick against them tonight. I prefer teams with a killer instinct, but the rivalry between Schneider and Van Persie combined with the bad form of Fernando Torres and the deadly dangerous left foot of Robben is enough to convince me that this Netherlands team will finally do what the Total Football and Bergkamp-led teams of the past could not and win the World Cup.

I have to confess that I am impressed with the Germans, though. Some of the finest and most intelligent individual actions I’ve seen in the tournament have been on the part of German players, Bastian Schweinsteiger’s idiotic insistence on playing around with the ball in dangerous positions notwithstanding. I love how their defenders are taught to turn around and run with the ball-handling attacker, thus preventing them from being outrun. And Mueller’s anticipation of the rebound from Schweinsteiger’s shot on goal was beautiful; every striker should closely watch how he begins his run towards the goal area as soon as the shot is taken. Being in the right place at the right time like that is not a matter of luck, it’s a straightforward matter of persistence and probability.

UPDATE: Spain 1, Holland 0. Okay, so I guess I got that one wrong. I thought the Dutch were fell apart tonight, the goalkeeper excluded. They really were a bunch of whiners to boot. Schneider seemed to be tired, while Robben was simply terrible in front of goal and blew at least four solid chances… I couldn’t believe it when he didn’t square the ball to a wide-open Van Persie, who could have practically walked the ball in. Unlike previous games, they weren’t putting shots on goal but were trying to dribble the ball in as far too many teams did this tournament. And the Spanish goal wasn’t even close to being offside, so I have no idea what the Dutch were crying about there.