Germany against Spain has all the elements to make a classic World Cup semi-final. Die Mannschaft are progressing with impressive authority round by round, while la Furia Roja were rated by many pundits to be amongst the pre-tournament favorites.
While Joachim Loew’s side are functioning smoothly, Vicente del Bosque has admitted his players have not yet hit top gear, and against a German outfit who are confident and in-form the Spaniards will surely have to step up a level if they are to progress to the final.
With this in mind, here are the key battlegrounds to look out for on the field of play come Wednesday evening.
Note: Castrol Rakings based on World Cup performances are in brackets.
Miroslav Klose (14) v Carles Puyol (22)
In Klose, Germany seem to have a forward player built for World Cup competition. Despite a season that was verging on hopeless for Bayern Munich, the lanky forward has defied expectations for the national team once again. Worryingly for Spain, he appears to be getting stronger, having bagged a brace against Argentina in the quarter-finals.
Puyol, meanwhile, is a central defender who can draw varying opinions. At times he can have lapses in concentration, but the Barcelona man is never to be found wanting for wholeheartedness when turning out for either club or country. Spain have not looked impregnable at the back, and he must rise to the challenge.
Verdict: It’s very difficult to back against Klose scoring given the form he is in. Additionally, the supply he has received from the midfield has been excellent, and if his threat is to be quelled, Puyol will have to be at his best.
Mesut Oezil (82) v Sergio Busquets (34)
Supplying the ammunition for the attackers will primarily the task of Oezil. If he can be subdued by Busquets, la Furia Roja will have gone someway to thwarting the Germany offensive effort.
Youngster Oezil caught the eye at the European Under-21 championships last year as he led the young Mannschaft to glory, and the playmaker is set on replicating such success on the grandest stage. Simply brimming with confidence, the Werder Bremen 21-year-old should now be considered a world star, and he will want to cement such status with another intuitive and innovative performance as Germany’s chief offensive conductor.
A couple of months Oezil’s senior – he celebrates his 22nd birthday five days after the World Cup final – Barcelona star Busquets must effectively stifle the threat of one of the tournament’s stars if Spain are to flourish. There have been doubts raised over the ability of the Catalan player, yet he has not won nearly 20 caps for his nation and established himself in the Barca side for nothing. The holding midfielder really has a great opportunity to prove his class on Wednesday.Verdict: Oezil’s form is top drawer at present, and he should be expected to get the better of Busquets in this vital battle.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (25) v Xavi (109)
One of the chief problems teams encounter when playing Spain is earning any possession. It will be Schweinsteiger’s role in the heart of the German midfield to disrupt la Furia Roja as much as possible, with Xavi chiefly regarded as the man to stop.
Schweinsteiger has arguably been the outstanding player of the tournament to date. Not only has he proven himself adept as a destructive influence, he has also shown himself capable of pushing forward and making a nuisance of himself in the opposing penalty area. His performance against Argentina was virtuoso, and if he can impose himself in such a manner come Wednesday then the Germans have a fighting chance.
Xavi has yet to find top form at the World Cup, yet if he can spark into life Spain are always a force tough to match. The Barcelona midfielder is arguably the best passer of the ball in the world, and if he can find his game then the Spanish offense will be a hugely fearsome force.
Verdict: It may well be that Schweinsteiger gets the upper hand on Xavi – after all, his form has been exemplary. However, the Spanish midfield has too much offensive class to be dominated by the Germans, who will primarily attempt to counterattack.
Philipp Lahm (1) v David Villa (5)
What a mouth-watering clash is in store down the German right and the Spanish left should Lahm and Villa remain untouched in the positions they have played for the duration of this tournament. Should the full-back get the better of the Barcelona forward, he will have negated Spain’s major goal threat.
Lahm has enjoyed a remarkable season at club and now country level. With Bayern Munich he was one of the outstanding factors that led them to the Champions League final as well as domestic glory, and now he has transferred his reliable defending and swashbuckling attacking onto the international setup. Indeed, according to the Castrol World Cup Rankings, he has been the top performer at the tournament to date.
On the other hand, Villa has unquestionably been la Furia Roja’s outstanding offensive force since Euro 2008. Having been pushed somewhat into the shade in that competition, he has since fired on all cylinders for the national side, scoring a truly breathtaking 25 in his last 31 internationals. The World Cup has seen no relent in such impressive form from the ex-Valencia striker, who has five goals to his credit in South Africa already.
Verdict: While it’s possible that Villa could be subdued for the vast majority of the game, he is on such form that it will only take one momentary lapse to allow him to score.
The Germans keep defying the odds and have a very well functioning unit at present. Spain are still Spain and mustn’t be discounted even if their form is not brilliant at the moment. The first goal may well be crucial in determining the outcome of this fixture.
Germany 2-1 Spain
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