Thursday, July 08, 2010

Earning the (re)cap: WC semifinals

I'm bringing back the Earning the (re)cap series for the remainder of the World Cup. Here are quick breakdowns of the semifinal games. I'll do another breakdown of the third-place match Saturday evening and then recap the final on Monday. Each match will also be previewed the day before.

The Netherlands - Uruguay:
Score: 3-2, NED
My prediction: 2-1, NED

This match appeared like a possible blowout to some thanks to the talented Dutch and the absence of four Uruguayan starters, but it turned out to be an excellent clash. Uruguay was outgunned, but they played with plenty of heart and were right in the match throughout. The Netherlands took the lead early through a spectacular 18th-minute effort from Giovanni Van Bronkhorst [Stephen Brunt, The Globe and Mail], but the Uruguayans fought back and Diego Forlan continued his sensational play at this World Cup, scoring a brilliant equalizer just before halftime. If not for a disastrous five-minute stretch [George Johnson, Canwest News Service] where the Dutch notched two goals, the South Americans could have come away with this one.

Uruguay had chances even after that, but made some curious decisions; despite being down by two with 12 minutes left, Uruguay seemed hesitant to throw everyone into attack. In fact, they even took Forlan off in the 84th minute []. Jack Kogod mentioned yesterday that this was likely due to injury, but the injury didn't sound too serious, and I'd rather keep my best player on the pitch at 80 per cent than replace him with a player like Sebastian Fernandez who has never scored an international goal. If I was the manager and wanted to bring Fernandez on, I'd have done so for a defender to throw more bodies into the attack. Still, Uruguay turned up the heat at the last minute and collected a stoppage time goal from Maximiliano Pereira. They kept the pressure on and had several chances to equalize at the death, but couldn't quite bury it. On the whole, it was a deserved win for the Dutch, who turned in a stellar performance, but the closeness of the match made me wonder what could have been. It was a tragic end to the magical run of the Uruguayans, who really didn't deserve all the guff they've been getting [Dave Warner, Dave's Football Blog] over Luis Suarez's handball against Ghana.

Germany - Spain:
Score: 1-0, ESP
My prediction: 3-1, GER

While we're talking about what could have been, let's examine Exhibit A. This match was brutally disappointing to me, and not just because I'm half-German, but even more because it saw the superbly exciting and offensively-minded Deutschlanders (13 goals in five matches) give in to the plodding style of play of the Iberians (six goals through five matches). What was hyped as a matchup worthy of a final turned into a rather dull affair, much as the Brazil-Portugal clash in the group stage did. This was still interesting to watch, but it was far from what it could have been.

The problem was that Germany tried to use the counterattacking strategy that paid off superbly against Argentina, but they did so too cautiously. They pulled too many men back, conceding too much possession and breaking too slowly on the counter. The Germans still defended effectively for much of the game, but they didn't often control the ball or create many chances, and you could sense that a Spanish goal was coming. Carlos Puyol finally notched one with a great header in the 73rd minute [Geoffrey York, The Globe and Mail], and even that failed to completely light a fire under the Germans. They put on some pressure towards the end, but were unable to equalize. The Spanish victory was deserved, but it wasn't particularly pretty.

Style isn't everything, of course, and CS Steiber wrote an excellent post on how both effectiveness and elegance have their own merits. I've got no issue with people who favour either argument, and in many cases, either philosophy can make sense. Unlike Brian Phillips, though, I'll be rooting for the Netherlands on Sunday. Their tactics are a considerable ways from the joy they have typically been to watch, but to me, they still represent a much more exciting side than the Spanish. What I really hope, though, is that both sides decide to go for it offensively and give us a World Cup Final to remember.

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