Let’s start with the 3rd place game and then move on to the big one.
Saturday, July 10th
2:30 PM- ABC- Uruguay vs. Germany
It is sort of hard to predict the 3rd place game. you don’t know if the coach is going to rest some guys to give some less experienced guys a run, or if they are going to try something new because few really care about 3rd. So while it is unclear if Miroslav Klose will play or if other German stars might take a seat on the bench, Same goes for Uruguay, though I’d bet Suarez returns and Forlan plays, which is all they really need offensively combined with the service of Maxi Perreira. Both squads are definitely a bit up in the air, so we are going to have to go off of what he know about the teams rather than the players.
I sense that Uruguay will be going for it since they are a much smaller country with a proud tradition that is just recently regaining its luster. To me, that screams that Uruguay is going for it, so we will go on that assumption. We also know that Uruguay will fight to the death, regardless of the score or odds as the Dutch found out in the final minutes when Uruguay added a 2nd goal. Uruguay is not to be underestimated.
Germany is the favorite here, but I am not sure if they will be going for it full out. Regardless of if Klose chases the record, Schweinsteiger, Ozil and Muller should be there to terrorize the back line much like the Dutch did. If a few of those guys sit, all bets are off, but I think this game breaks down much like the Netherlands-Uruguay game, Uruguay is going to give them one hell of a fight, but Germany has too much talent to fall short.
Uruguay 1-3 Germany
Sunday, July 11th
2:30 PM- ABC- Netherlands vs. Spain
Here we are, folks. This one is for all the marbles and all the adoration of millions. We will take a look at the lineups in a second, but as we usually do with the big games, let’s take a look at the path each team took on its way to the promised land.
The Dutch have breezed through this competition so far even though they arguably drew the toughest group with Cameroon, Japan, and Denmark. They only conceded one goal in the Group Stage (a meaningless one to Cameroon) and after tussling with Slovakia in the Round of 16 and winning 2-1, the Dutch set their sights on Brazil. An early Felipe Melo through ball undressed them, but they fought back, in part thanks to Melo and a lack of Brazilian resolve. Melo’s own goal, the result of a missed punch by Julio Cesar, led to the first Dutch goal and a flick by Kuyt and deader by the 5’7″ Wesley Sneijder gave the Dutch the goal they would need to come out on top. Their third straight 2-1 win was also their most important as they went on to beat Uruguay 3-2 in a game that was far more stressful for them than you would think. And now they get Spain…
Spain rolled out of bed on the wrong side and before they knew it, they were looked up at 2 teams in their group. That loss to Switzerland seemed to unify the team and focus them on the task at hand and La Furia Roja have been on a furious tear since. They handled Honduras, chased Chile off the pitch and was able to avoid Brazil in the Round of 16. The result was great for Spain who went up against a staunchly defensive and toothless Portugal side. They took their time, but came out with a 1-0 win that would be a sign of things to come. Next up was over-matched Paraguay who very nearly gave Spain a match. Thanks to Casillas’ penalty save, Spain again won 1-0. They had not conceded a goal since the lone goal in the Switzerland game, but that looked sure to change as high-octane Germany came rolling in. However, when the whistle sounded, Spain had denied Germany many chances on goal at all, and waltzed to the finals with a 1-0 victory. David Villa has been the man for Spain, more than making up for Fernando Torres’ ineptitude in this tournament. They have good reason to think their will be hoisting their first World Cup.
One thing worth noticing is that both teams really play a pretty similar style. If Torres starts, it is a bit different, but the back 4 of Spain + Busquets and the back 3 + 2 of De Zeeuw, Van Bommel and De Jong are pretty similar. Sneijer and Xavi play very similar styles of playmaker/distributor, and Kuyt-Robben on the wings does bear some resemblance to Fabregas/Pedro-Iniesta on the wings. Even if Torres plays, then Villa gets sort of moved to the left wing, leaving very similar roles. It is clear that both teams play a very similar style also, which means we sort of have an apples to apples situation here. Both teams like to have the ball and work it around to score their goals, and both teams have done well in the goal-scoring department.
However, Spain has been vastly superior defensively, not allowing a relevant goal since the opening game (which excludes the Chile goal), whereas the
Dutch seem to give their opponents far too many chances every match. Even Slovakia was able to create some clear chances against this defense, and they have conceded 5 goals in the last 4 games. Not very becoming of a champion. When you look at who Spain has shut out, it is even more impressive. Portugal is ranked 3rd in the World, and Germany scored 8 goals in the 2 games leading up to their loss to Spain. Spain is beautiful to watch in possession, but their defense, as much as their attack, as been key to their success. Casillas is also a cut above Stekelenburg, who, to his credit, did save the Kaka shot that would have sunk the Dutch. The attacks are similar, and both have great chemistry, but Spain holds a clear and distinct advantage defensively.
There are two interesting options for Spain’s lineup. The first has to do with the health of Cesc Fabregas. If he is healthy, I think they have matched the
Dutch wingers, which is both impressive and important. The Dutch make a lot of money on the wings, and if Fabregas and Iniesta can keep them off-balance and defending, the Dutch advantage there might not hold. If Fabregas is not healthy, Pedro can step in and be a sort of half striker, half midfielder that will not do as much to deter the Dutch wingers, but can certainly combine with Villa for the strike. The other interesting option is Torres. He has really been pretty bad so far, but he might have bagged himself a goal if Pedro could have picked his head up and slotted it over on the break. However, it looks like El Nino will be pushed to Super Sub status. However, since Spain has absolutely no shortage of options on the bench, even if neither Fabregas nor Torres is fit, they will be more than fine with Navas, Silva and Llorente coming off the bench.
The Dutch also have an option off the bench in Rafael Van der Vaart, but I am not sure if he is a difference maker. He played very well in the Uruguay game, but he will probably be a bit over-matched against Spain, and all his former Real Madrid teammates will know what he is up to. Speaking of Real Madrid, there are a shocking number of former Real Madrid members, Barcelona players, and current Real Madrid players. Sneijder, Van der Vaart, Robben, and just about the entire Spanish team comes from one of those two clubs. Certainly some redemption for Spanish league football after not putting a team in the final.
One last random thought before the pick. I am sure many of you are with me in wondering why Spain continues to choose Sergio Busquets for the Starting XI. Wouldn’t you rather start Fabregas and Pedro instead of Busquets? Or even throw a true winger like Navas or Silva in to provide some wide service instead of a fairly vanilla midfielder? I understand part of his appeal in being so safe, but I wonder at how he manages to stay in the Starting XI sometimes.
You could probably guess it from the way I have written so far, but it is time to make it official. Let’s make it 4 straight 1-0 wins for Spain.
Netherlands 0-1 Spain