Archive for July 5th, 2010

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.