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Just two years ago, Germany faced off with Spain in the Euro 2008 final. The Iberians won that encounter by a final score of 1-0, but there are many reasons to believe that a repeat performance is not in the cards.
In the last two years, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has made just one change to his preferred starting lineup. Germany, by contrast, have made five adjustments in recent months, and coach Joachim Loew has turned his team into a real powerhouse.
Today’s semifinals clash is bound to be a real thriller. If Loew and Germany are to avenge their 2008 loss and book a ticket to the finals, their success will likely come if they do the following:
1) Stretch The Spanish Midfield
Spain’s starting lineup and formation is yet to be confirmed, but one thing is for certain: la Furia Roja prefer a narrow game. Midfielders Xavi, Xabi Alonso, and Sergio Busquets are all strictly central players, and Andres Iniesta prefers a position more in the middle than on either flank. Only if coach Del Bosque uses a 4-5-1 formation with David Silva as a winger will Spain have any amount of natural width in midfield. That is far from certain, and even so, Spain will play narrowly. If Germany spread the ball inside and out, the likes of Alonso, for example, will be forced into unfamiliar - and less-than-ideal - positions. Out there, Germany’s more appropriately positioned players will have an advantage.
2) Put ‘Em Under Pressure
Spain have had trouble all tournament dealing with high-pressing teams, namely Paraguay and Switzerland. At the World Cup, no team has applied pressure as well as the Germans, who have neutralized the likes of Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney. As they have done before, Germany must play as a unit: in defense, they must consistently use two backlines of four; on the counterattack, they must use an unpredictable, five-man wave. Doing so will require tremendous effort from the players, but will give the Germans numerical advantages at both ends of the pitch.
3) Have A Hero’s Performance From Philipp Lahm
In previous tournaments, Lahm has featured as an aggressive, attack-minded left back and the fulcrum of the German attack. His right-sided role at the 2010 World Cup has been a much more conservative one. Rather than being Germany’s primary playmaker coming from an isolated location, he has allowed Bastian Schweinsteiger to distribute, and Thomas Mueller to counterattack ahead of him. Lahm has been rock-solid at the back, but with Mueller suspended and Schweinsteiger set to take on several of the world’s finest midfielders, he will have to take more risks in attack.
4) Force David Villa Out Wide
For all their quality in midfield, Spain have had a terrible time finding the back of the net. Compared with Germany’s 13, Del Bosque’s side have managed just six goals, five of which have been scored by David Villa. Several times before, and most notably in the quarterfinals against Paraguay, the Barcelona striker has been isolated in attack and forced to go looking for the ball. Villa can play on the left flank, but if he does so against Germany, Spain will either be strikerless (if Del Bosque uses a 4-5-1 formation), or at least without a reliable goalscorer (if striker Fernando Torres retains his starting role) in the penalty area.
5) Be Efficient
Efficiency is a cliché often applied to German football, and in 2010, it still holds. Germany have been absolutely ruthless in attack, particularly since the beginning of the knockout rounds. At the first chance, they have gone ahead, and never looked back. Joint top scorer Miroslav Klose is a perfect example of the Germans’ efficiency: the veteran striker has taken 11 shots, eight of which have hit the target, and four of which have found the back of the net.
Against Spain, Germany will see very little of the ball. The Iberians are second to none when it comes to winning possession, and often induce defeat by a thousand passes. In doing so, however, they push many players forward, allowing for the occasional counterattack. Germany will get their chances in transition, but will have to take their opportunities.