What We Learned From Germany vs Uruguay (3-2)

Not The Festival of Losers We Anticipated

These things can go either way. On the one hand you’ve got two teams who’ve lost the semi-finals and really probably feel like they should have taken a plane out of town three or four days beforehand. On the other, you’ve got two teams who know that nothing matters other than battering the shit out of whoever they’re playing against. Fortunately for us we got the second.

Both the Germans and the dirty cheating Urugs (for that is their name) came to win, which is more than can be said for most teams in most matches during this competition. The Germans welcomed back Muller, who must be a certainty for the Best Young Player of the tournament, while DC Urug foisted Dirty Suarez on us, who must be a certainty for Cheat of the Championship. Both had an effect on the game, albeit in different ways. Muller showed how indispensable he is to Germany, scoring the first goal and constantly being a thorn in the Uruguayans’ side; Dirty Suarez, on the other hand, contrived to miss every single opportunity he had. And he’s got the sort of misery face that makes you indescribably glad every time he fucks things up.

The Germans deserved to win, despite Uruguay putting on pressure and going ahead, if only for the positive attacking philosophy they’ve brought to the tournament. Uruguay have built on a great defence and Diego Forlorn, who has been good, but they’ve been the least interesting of all four semi-finalists.

63 Down 1 To Go, 2 Teams Remaining

What We Learned From Spain vs Germany (1-0)

Somebody Somewhere Is Playing The Bee-Gees

Tragedy, when the feeling’s gone and you can’t go on, tragedy“, played out of the window by some local fool, the lyrics float through the breeze here in the summertime. The saddest thing is that they’re probably not even watching the football. They’re blissfully unaware that they’ve put on the soundtrack to Germany’s summer football dream. Germany, the team who, more than any other here, have embodied the notion of decisive attacking football, who’ve done more than any other team to counter the pernicious influence of the Mourinho Discipline, who’ve provided the best (often sole) entertainment of the tournament and who, after this, are not going to the final. It’s not just a tragedy, it’s a fucking disgrace.

But Germany were well and truly outdone, cut apart and pig-stuck by a Spanish team that has never shown the slightest trace of ambition or fluency. Instead, Spain have developed their own form of football torture, death by a thousand passes. I’ve been greatly disappointed by the Spanish, who, aside from playing some really tedious matches have shown little or no attempt to entertain in any way. They represent, in truth, the counterpoint to the Mourinho Discipline, not its nemesis. For all their pretty passing, tikki takka ‘creativity’, they make far more passes backwards into their own stable area than they do into genuinely dangerous spaces within their opponents’ halfs. They are thoroughly conservative in the worst possible sense, never playing a decisive game changing pass unless it is 100% certain. Instead they’d rather play it around the back , luring the opposition out of position and then punishing them on the break.

It’s a thoroughly cynical, dirty game that provides no evidence of joy or excitement and it’s largely failed at this tournament, which is a surprising thing given that Spain are in the final. It’s about stifling the game, boring the opposition into submission, like some dastardly invention of the inquisition. Confess your sins, they seem to be saying, or we will continue to pass the bastard ball around the back. It’s not about game changing, it’s about game killing, which is why it really only works when Spain are one up. It is no coincidence that Spain have won all the games that matter 1 – 0. And it’s no coincidence that their goal here came from a set piece rather than any intricate bit of tippy tappy bullshit. In many ways they are the George Graham Arsenal of international football, only they can pass it about a bit.

In truth, they did what they did spectacularly well and Germany, the Germany who’ve appeared to always have some kind of tactical advantage, fell into their trap. Like both Engerland and Argentina, Spain played with a high backline, which should have let the Germans have the run of the game. However, Spain’s defence is much tighter than either of Germany’s victims – they actually appear able to defend – and Germany had no luck breaking through it. No, Germany was far too busy playing a game they’re not used to, lining up in two banks of four in a formation uncannily similar to the Mourinho Discipline. And you know what, they’re nowhere near as accomplished at it as the Swiss. Boateng especially looked thoroughly outclassed and out of his comfort zone, and provided the space on the Spanish right for pretty much all of their attacking in the first half. Another big loss for Germany was Mueller, who was suspended for one of those really irritating, given by a Mexican referee yellow cards. He’s one of those players who isn’t really flamboyant, but whose work at the midfield point of the attack is only truly appreciated when he’s gone. And he is critical to Germany’s game.

So, bye-bye the undoubted best team in the tournament. Not bye-bye to one of the least. Fuck me this World Cup is a bastard.

62 Down 2 To Go, 2 Teams Remaining

What We Learned From Holland vs Uruguay (3-2)

Take That Dirty Suarez

There was something almost ironic about the second Dutch goal being that Van Persil, who still hasn’t broken his duck, was comfortably offside and undoubtedly interfering with play. Oh how we laughed as the Urugs (the dirty cheating, double dealing, African victory stealing bastards) attempted to protest, all to no avail. Oh how we chortled as even the Dutch seemed overwhelmed with the ref’s decision. And once they were ahead, they made sure with a Robben header. I mean a Robben header. Here’s a man who is so worried about his hairline that he barely strokes his head, let alone heads a ball. The Urugs must have thought that the sky had fallen in on their heads. Revenge is sweet.

Will The Real Dutch PLEASE Start Showing Up

How long are we going to have to wait until the Dutch actually play some interesting football. I mean this can’t go on. They are in the World Cup Final and they’ve played about 15 minutes of good football in total. They’re still playing with Van der Vaart and Van Bommel, two of the most wretched players ever to pull on an orange jersey, leaving the lively Elia on the bench until the game is well and truly over. They’ve got Van Persil, who still hasn’t scored, who has barely had a shot and who plays like a rather tall Jermaine Defoe. And yet, they won all their qualifying group matches. They’ve won all their matches so far. And THEY’RE PLAYING SHIT FOOTBALL. Mind you it’s an interesting kind of shit football, it’s neither obsessed with the Mourinho Discipline, nor playing the great game of flowing, attacking football. It’s a whole new kind of shit. Still shit nonetheless.

Meanwhile Back In The Batcave of Loew Leisurewear

Super friend of the Palace, The Other Charles, spotted this fantastic parody of German manager Jochim Loew and his pet monkey Gunther. Well worth the viewing while we wait for the long-hoped for annihilation of Spain.

61 Down 3 To Go, 3 Teams Remaining

Extra, Extra, How About Them Semi-Finals Eh?

Shurely Shome Mishtake…

Hmmm. So when I initially looked at the semis and said. “I see these being Uruguay vs Engerland and Brazil vs Portugal,” I was obviously not taking into account the awesome predictive skills of Paul the Octopus and his reality twisting powers.  Given I’ve only been watching football since I was six, it’s somehow inevitable that a cephalopod with no understanding of the game, but a clear knowledge of which flag belongs to Germany, should be able to outwit me in the prediction stakes.

Still one out of four isn’t catastrophic eh? Even if it does belong to the Cheating C**t Urugs. Who, it seems, have either discovered the irony thing or have completely misinterpreted the whole Hand of God thing from 1986, thinking that it was somehow good that Maradona should so cheapen himself as to cheat a goal in the same match he scored the Goal of The Century. I find it risible that Dirty Suarez (for that is his real name) should receive exactly the same punishment as craphat Harry Kewell for effectively deliberately cheating his team to a World Cup semi-final. However, as Laurent Blanc, the soon to be unfortunate manager of the World Cup power formally known as France and now known as Failure, discovered, deliberate cheating at the World Cup is alive and well. Let’s hope that Dirty Suarez and his hideous team get the same comeuppance as Croatia got.

Meanwhile the Dutch still haven’t built up a significant head of steam. As far as I can recall, they’ve played approximately one ‘last 15 minutes’ of a game with anything like the authority I expect from a semi-finalist (during their initial match against Denmark), and made approximately one dangerous cross into the box (against Brazil), but these appears to have been aberrations. They do seem to have raised their game to the extent that Robben has replaced the shockingly slow and tedious Van der Vaart in their starting line up, but that was presumably their game plan all along.

I see this as being an awesomely tedious match. The Cheating Urugs have, despite everything, a very solid defence, which has only conceded two goals albeit both at the sharper end of the tournament, while the Dutch have done the absolute minimum necessary to win all their matches without ever looking like a seriously dangerous team. I would hope that the Dutch win and ideally start to play the kind of football they’re capable of when Elia is on the pitch. And if they can stuff the Cheating Urugs, say, 5 – 0, that would be a nice bonus. But I’m not holding my breath.

As for the Spanish, they really are painful. They still can’t decide whether Tippa Takki or slothful wingplay is the way forward for football (I think the answer is neither if you can’t do it incisively). And it’s clear that in their panic they have resorted to the strategy of ‘Give It To Villa’. For a team that came into the competition with so much hype and expectation, they constantly find new ways of disheartening us all. Still they did show moments in the last game, which they clearly should have lost, when Iniesta was on the ball and Fabregas was on the pitch, where they did look almost interesting. However, their fundamental problem is that if you neutralise Villa, you’ve effectively got Spain by the balls.

Which leaves just the Germans. Who would have thought it? The Germans. Who, like 2006, came into the tournament with a largely untried team, fronted by a largely untried coach (then Jurgen Klinsman, now the svelte uber-dresser Jochim Loew), and delivered the most exciting football of the tournament. Unlike pretty much every other team here, Germany has remembered that football isn’t about not losing, it’s not about just defending, it’s not about long, slow, tortuous attacking build up around the halfway line while your opponents place their banks of 4 in pretty rows. They’ve remembered that football is about swift devastating attacks, speed of motion, intelligence, aggression, pace and power. Their clinical demolitions first of the spastically useless Engerland and subsequently Argentina, have been compelling viewing and the only matches I’ve kept on my recorder from the entire World Cup.

More than any other coach at the World Cup, Loew has revealed that he has game plans. And tactics. And I suspect that he’s intelligent enough to see where the threat from Spain comes from. And with German captain Lahm the player who will spend most time facing Villa, I can see them putting the Spanish to bed quite easily.  Not as easily perhaps as their previous two matches, where both Engerland and Argentina left their back doors open all game like deluded trusting people living in the country, but relatively easily nonetheless. Still here possibly more than the other semi-final, the first goal will be critical. If Spain get it, they have the power to shut the game down completely. If Germany get it, then Spain will have to come out of their shell and go for it. I see Spain dropping Torres, who has been wretched, and playing Fabregas and, possibly, their big striker Llorente in a more threatening formation. Otherwise this, too will be dull.

The semi-finals in 2006 produced by far the best games of the tournament, with all four teams going all out to win the matches. At some point in both of these semis, the teams are going to realise that they have to actually win these games rather than simply not lose them. It really is Fergie’s Squeaky Bum Time and, for most of the players in either semi, the only chance they’ll get to reach a World Cup Final. Who will discover their cohones? So far only the Germans have consistently shown they want to win matches, so by my reckoning, if not Paul the fucking Octopus’ (who should be dealt with like that Octopus at the start of Oldboy), it’s Germany’s to lose.

What We Learned From Spain vs Paraguay (1-0)

Unstoppable Force Meets Immoveable Object

Or the potentially hardest working defence left standing meets the apparently most intricate passing team in the world. And bugger me it was boring. Paraguay are the Switzerland of South America, and not just because they were the home of fleeing ex-nazis and secretive bank accounts. No, they are set up to defend. And harry. And press. And harry some more. And do everything but actually score. And, like Switzerland, they work bloody hard at it. So hard that it wasn’t until very late on in the game that Spain finally got their act together. But, also like Switzerland, they really can’t score. One goal against Italy and two against the mighty Slovakia in the Group stage have taken them to the brink of a World Cup semi-final. And very odd moments aside they really never looked even vaguely threatening. I mean at 72 minutes, with the score 0 – 0 they play their joker, taking off their by now knackered striker Valdez and bringing on Rocque Santa Cruz, who hasn’t scored for Paraguay for two years and hasn’t scored for Man City since the Mark Hughes era. Even then he manages to scuff up their only real chance from open play.

It’s All Gone To Penalties

Thank fucking christ it didn’t because the tedium would have finished me off. But for a crazy 5 minutes this game went off the charts. First Paraguay got a penalty, which they contrived to tamely tap into Casillas’ midriff, then Spain got a penalty, which Alonso scored, then had to retake, then missed. For a second it was like the shoot out had come early, before normal service (and tedium) was resumed. You feel that if Paraguay, like Ghana, had scored their penalty, they would have won this match. And you could feel that the pressure of being here, having gone further in the tournament than they had really believed they would, weighed heavily on the penalty takers.

Tikki Takki’s All Gone Messy

The Spanish have got a problem. They’ve arrived with half a good game and no idea of how to make it a whole game. Admittedly it works better than teams like Engerland, who arrive without any part of a good game, or teams like New Zealand, Switzerland and Paraguay, who arrive with one that they’ve borrowed from Jose Mourinho but haven’t read all of the user manuals. Spain’s real problem is that their chosen game has both declined and been susssed out. I don’t think they’re implementing their clever passing game as well as they did in Euro 2008 and I think teams have discovered how to put them off their game. All of which sounds a little pedantic given that Spain have Tikki Takka’d their way to the semi-finals, but they have been fantastically lucky. Chile gifted them the game, Paraguay surrendered it and they were lucky to beat Portugal. But they really need a way to combine clever, good looking football with incisiveness, speed and variation. Too often their attacks come down the middle at a pedestrian pace with no great effect. Take out David Villa and Spain don’t look remotely threatening, just pretty in the middle of the park.

60 Down 4 To Go 4 Teams Remaining

What We Learned From Germany vs Argentina (4-0)

Football, Bloody Hell – Game Of The Tournament

If ever there was a completely convincing argument for World Cups being won by teams rather than individuals, this was it. You have Argentina, who have the apparently best player in the world in Messi (although he hasn’t scored any goals and really hasn’t significantly influenced any games here) and possibly the James Brown of international football (the hardest working man in showbiz) in Carlos Tevez, not to mention Mascherano and Di Maria, who are managed by the Pimp Superstar Diego Maradona and yet, and yet, they’re utterly, comprehensively, totally stuffed by a team whose biggest name is still sitting out his FA Cup injury wondering when (more like if Michael) he’ll ever get back in this team.

Germany don’t play like a bunch of talented individuals who’ve been lumped together in pampered luxury and told to play a few games of footy together while on holiday. But enough about Engerland. I only mention them to say that I think Argentina got an even bigger stuffing tonight. Germany were outstanding in every way. Their defence totally annihilated the threat of Argentina’s strikers – remember Diego brought six with him – restricting them to one chance and even then they were offside (all four of them). Their midfield ran the match, Schweinsteiger, Ozil and Khadira (who was playing in that Michael Ballack position, which he won’t be giving back) just cut out any threat while building attack after attack primarily down the left hand side. While Klose and Mueller, the latter especially, worked endlessly to punish  the Argies at every opportunity.

Unlike Engerland, the Argies weren’t quite stupid enough to fall for the long ball right up the middle in between the two apparently best central defenders your country has to offer. But they were quite stupid enough to fall for the same goal three or four times in a row. All the attacking danger came down the German’s left, crossing the ball deep into the box for one of a host of attackers to tip, tap, scramble or lash into the net. Chances are the Argentinian right back won’t be playing many more games for his country. He’s already checked into a psychiatric institution to try to get his sanity back.

Out Go The Pimps

Maradona has been an interesting manager. At a time when many nations are simply buying job lots of these carbon copy international football svengalis (spot the difference between Paul Le Guen, Sven, Carlos Perierra and the various chain smoking Eastern European gents) Argentina chose to appoint their former best player (and notorious football cheat and drug abuser) to the post. He was roundly criticised for using approximately 100 different players during their qualifying campaign and for not getting the best out of Messi. His team selection was apparently “Mascherano and 10 others”. But he has managed to successfully halt the decline of Argentinian football and has pulled together a team that, the Germans aside, shows perhaps the greatest degree of cohesion and togetherness we’ve seen here. Sure they have had their arses soundly beaten, but it would be a shame if they decided to get rid of the PimpMeister General. Again, it’s a bit like Engerland, if they get rid of this manager, who are they going to appoint who is better?

Loew And His Monkey Are Like Batman And Robin

Holy Tactics Batman! I think we just did them again. What I like best about German manager Jochim Loew is not his obviously excellent grasp of tactics (although the tactic of ‘waiting until Engerland shot themselves in the foot’ is one that many, many teams have applied successfully before), it’s not even his bepringled comfy Leisuresuit Larry look. No, what I like best is that he forces his little Monkey to wear exactly the same garbacious clothing as he is. Not even Fab has forced Stuart Pierce into a blue, Lycra stretch pullover and waiters jacket. No Loew is obviously a man who wears the trousers round his way and ensures that everyone else wears ones that look exactly the same.

59 Down 5 To Go 5 Teams Remaining