Saturday, July 3, 2010

Some Exciting Soccer Today

Let's forget my knockout round predictions which have been blown to hell by both Brazil and Argentina having spectacular flameouts. Also, I had picked Spain to win the World Cup, but after seeing Germany dismantle Australia, England and now Argentina and seeing the struggles of Spain to defeat Paraguay, I can't say I'm hopeful for La Roja to take down Germany on Wednesday. In the rematch of the Euro 2008 final, I'd say Germany has the upper hand.

First there was Germany tearing apart Argentina. Germany got that early goal and then nothing much happened through the rest of the first half. But in the second half, with Maradona's boys all out of ideas for how to crack through the German midfield and their defense falling to pieces, Miroslav Klose struck twice and Friedrich once to give Germany a smashing 4-0 victory. That's the third match in this tournament in which Germany has scored 4 goals, a feat not accomplished in the World Cup since 1970 when Brazil defeated Czechoslovakia 4-1, Peru 4-2 and Italy 4-1.

It's worth noting that Brazil won that tournament (Pele's third and final WC trophy). Also that the majority of the other teams to do so either won the tournament or went to the final: Uruguay 1930 (champions); Brazil 1950 (runners up); West Germany (champions) and Hungary (runners up) 1954; France 1958 (the only anomaly of the bunch, finishing in third place).

Klose's two goals brought him up to 14 World Cup goals, tied for second with his compatriot Gerd Müller and only one behind Brazil's Ronaldo (who could have conceivably been in this tournament if he hadn't gotten fat and unfit). With two matches left to play for Germany, it's likely Klose will draw level, if not surpass, Ronaldo's mark.

That brings us to the Spain-Paraguay match. That was some serious excitement. As the match blazed on into the 83rd and 84th minutes I was thinking about all the bitter sports writers who hate on soccer claiming they can't get behind a sport where fans get excited over a 0-0 tie (never mind that it can 10 pitches in as many minutes to get through a single batter in baseball) because if David Villa hadn't scored late in the second half it would have been one of the most exciting 0-0 draws I've ever seen. The truth is, 0-0 draws are often quite boring, but they can be scintillating.

First, there was Paraguay's unexpected attack savvy, which they hadn't really demonstrated in their previous matches, preferring to play a very strong defense-minded game. Oh, they did that tonight too, completely closing down Iniesta and Xavi in the midfield. Every time either one of them got the ball he was immediately surrounded by three defenders. They kept trying to pass through-balls to Villa and Torres, but getting intercepted and caught on the break every time. Paraguay created a few decent attacking chances and even one goal called back for offside which I thought was a questionable call (Valdez was clearly in an on-side position, but another attacker, who was not directly involved in the play was not). Paraguay would have been up 1-0 on that, but oh well.

Then there was Gerard Piqué's stupid foul which led to the Paraguay penalty, taken by Cardozo, saved by Casillas!! Not 30 seconds later, as Spain caught the breakaway, a penalty was awarded them as David Villa was taken down in the area. First of all, the defender who took down Villa was the last defender to beat and FIFA rules stipulate that's an automatic red card, which the player did not receive. But Spain was awarded a penalty just half a minute after saving one in their own end. Xavi Alonso lined up to take it (I guess Villa was a bundle of nerves after missing his spot kick in an earlier match) and fired away. Score!!!! But no, the ref called it back because the Spanish players entered the area before the kick was taken. It would be a do-over like playground football (American football, that is). Alonso lines up again, strikes and...saved by Villar! He doesn't keep control of it, the ball gets away from him and a Spanish player chips the ball past him, runs onto it and has his feet taken out by Villar's hands. The replays show a clear foul, grounds for another penalty but either the ref doesn't see it or he doesn't want to become known as the ref who awarded 3 spot kicks in 2 minutes.

All this was rendered moot by Villa's incredible strike, his fifth of the tournament to put him in line for the Golden Boot award. He has Iniesta to thank for that goal. Iniesta took a beautiful backheel pass just inside the halfway line, took the ball in, shot it outside to his right for Pedro, completely unmarked, to pick up. Pedro shoots far post, it ricochets off right to Villa's feet who knocks it to the opposite post where it ricochets across the face of the goal and bounces off the near post into the back of the net. Beautiful. And Spain are in the semi-final for the first time in their history. They had a 4th place finish in 1950 when they had a final group stage instead of a knockout stage.

But now Miroslav Klose, Mesut Ozil, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski await. Thomas Müller is suspended for the semi-final which may be the only saving grace Spain have. That's one less player who has frequently found the back of the net for Germany (4 times) in this World Cup.

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