World Cup - International

Spain to the Final!

Spain has advanced to the World Cup final, as their smooth operating neutralized the fire of the most incredibly dynamic German team in recent memory.

The disparity in playing style could not have been greater.  The Germans were typically eager, ruthless, disciplined, and pants-poopingly threatening.  The Spanish, to the consternation of everyone who thinks hard and fast win the battle, were tai-chi masters;  flowing, pass-happy, improvisational, and fluid.  If Germany came to rock and roll, Spain brought the jazz.  The result indicates that the beautiful game is best played by those who ride the ebb and flow with patience, grace, and belief.

Del Bosque caused a major stir with the lineup, benching the pleading eyes of Fernando Torres in favor of Pedro in midfield.  Whether this was a matter of pure strategy, a consequence of Torres’ underwhelming tournament or an attempt to use the embattled striker as a fallback super-sub remains unknown, as are Torres’ prospects for Sunday.  Whatever the thinking, this left tournament MVP David Villa all by his lonesome up top, where he was effectively muzzled by the German center backs as he tried to pick his way into penalty space.  Pedro, however, was a dream, terrorizing the opposition and proving himself (up until a certain moment of selfishness) well worthy of his start.

Germany was missing a star of its own, Thomas Mueller, due to suspension. His absence was felt.

The first action of the game came from neither Spain nor Germany, as the semifinal was briefly interrupted by a random douchebag being chased across the pitch by security.  Bystanders report that he was yelling something about goal-line technology and the vuvuzelas commanding him to sacrifice hamsters.

With that settled, in the 7th minute, Spain took their first shot.  Pedro created a wonderful chance on the move for a cavalier Villa, who slid into the former’s silky pass but was denied by a hyper-vigilant Neuer.  Minutes later, Iniesta played a short corner right into the path of a diving Puyol, whose header somehow went over the crossbar.  That time, anyway…

Despite the early threats, one shouldn’t be tempted into thinking that La Furia Roja looked particularly dangerous.  Other than the aforementioned chances, the first half and the game generally was simply a matter of plain old possession.

How infuriating it must be for Germany to know that their opponents refuse to either attack or defend, but are simply content to be one with the ball until the flow of the game itself presents a scoring opportunity.  There’s an important distinction between the cowardly defensiveness utilized by so many teams against strong attacking sides and the tranquil Zen soccer perfected by Spain.

Thus was the pain of Deutschland, as they enjoyed roughly a third of the possession over 90 minutes.  Even more painful for German fans must be the fact that during the few times their team actually had the ball, they were an utter blitzkrieg of dangerous attacking fury.  In fact, the title of La Furia much more aptly described Germany this year.  Maybe Spain could be re-christened; something along the lines of El Tranquilo Rojo.

German counterattacks were very hopeful.  In one such incident, Piotr Trochowski managed a low-and-hard blast from 30 yards, forcing Casillas to dive and save it by a single outstretched hand. In another, Ozil broke through the middle at the end of the first half, but was taken down in the box (cleanly).

Germany’s attacks would remain just as sporadic and just as scary in the second half, but to no better result.

The Spanish meanwhile found the increasing pace of their rhythm leading them to more and more threats on Neuer.  Xabi Alonso shot one just wide, followed by Villa doing the same.  As 60 minutes approached, the German GK barely got a finger onto Pedro’s shot, after which a crappy clearance allowed Iniesta to put a beautiful pass into the path of Villa, who was only a hair from being quick enough to finish it.  Germany’s last great hope to take the lead came in the 69th, when a phenomenal ball from Podolski on the run found Kroos in exactly the right place to fire hard on Casillas.  The Saint came up huge with a diving save that was almost imperceptibly quick.

The defining moment, though, came from the long haired hero, the Samson of Spain, badass hulking defender Carles Puyol.  In the 73rd, Spain took an actual, not short, corner for once.  This must have stunned the Germans almost as much as Puyol’s epic leap, seemingly from another part of Africa, over the back of the fray.  With a mighty twist of his bullish neck, the Barca enforcer rocketed a header past a hopeless Neuer and into the top of the back of the net.

In the 81st, Del Bosque retired the frenetic Villa and gave Torres yet another chance to shine.  Torres, however, would be cruelly robbed of his first goal by an exceedingly selfish Pedro, who found himself charging the goal with a German defender in front of him and a completely open and understandably incensed Torres just to his left, needing only a quick pass for an almost guaranteed goal.  To put one away before the final would have done wonders for the morale of a player who, when fully fit and confident, may be the best thing Spain has to offer.

Fortunately for Pedro, Germany was not able to convert this detestable act into anything resembling a goal, and in the end Puyol’s gem would shine as Spain’s ticket to their very first World Cup final.

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