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The second of the two World Cup semifinals is simultaneously being heavily anticipated and somewhat bemoaned - anticipated because it has the potential to be an explosive barn-burner, and bemoaned because it seems to feature the two best remaining teams in the tournament meeting one round too early.
What could be the best game of the tournament kicks off on Wednesday, July 7 at 2:30 pm ET in Durban. Both teams have played in Durban once before in this tournament, though only one wants to think about it. Germany was the very convincing 4-0 winners over Australia, while Spain incomprehensibly dropped their opener to Switzerland on this pitch.
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If you don’t want to look beyond World Cup history then the Germans have a significant edge. They have won the tournament three times, and have finished third or better in five of the last seven World Cups. Spain, on the other hand, has made it past the quarterfinals for the first time since 1950, and has never finished better than fourth. Germany also has the head-to head advantage - they have beaten Spain twice and played to a draw once in three World Cup meetings. Spain has traditionally been a talented underachiever, but they took a big step towards shedding that image when they won Euro 2008. They beat the Germans in the final of that tournament, though there’s a good chance that this game will be more explosive than that one was - it was a 1-0 final.
With one minor exception Germany has been the best team in this tournament by far. They somehow lost to Serbia in one of the more surprising outcomes of the first round. They have won their other four games by a combined 13-1 score, though, and they have been at least as terrifying as the score suggests. It’s not like they have been dominating weaklings, either - England and Argentina were both strong teams, but Germany made them look like teenage girls.
What has made them so tough to play against is that there isn’t a single player to focus your defensive efforts against. They don’t have a star striker of the caliber or reputation of Spain’s David Villa, but every player they have has been absolutely brilliant. Miroslav Klose and Thomas Muller have four goals each, Lukas Bodolski has a pair, three others have scored, and several other players have been major factors despite not hitting the score sheet. Every time a team tries to focus on one player everyone else takes over the offensive force and makes their opponent pay. To make matters worse for their opponents, they have been at least as good defensively. Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi are among the best in the world, but they both looked like amateurs against the Germans.
The biggest surprise for Germany is the play of Thomas Muller. He has a bright future and expectations are very high for him, but he’s only 20, so this was widely viewed as a learning experience for him before he made his big contributions at the next two World Cups. No one told him that, though. He has been brilliant offensively, and has been part of pretty much everything the team has done. It can’t be viewed as good news, then, that Muller will be forced to sit this one out thanks to his two yellow cards. Germany has the depth to make up for the absence, but it remains to be seen Muller’s swagger will be missed in this game.
Spain hasn’t looked nearly as dominant as the Germans. In fact, it’s been pretty scary. They lost to Switzerland, looked flat in beating Honduras, and then let Chile stick around longer than they should have in the last game of the round robin. Things haven’t gotten dramatically better in elimination play. They beat Portugal in a game which didn’t turn out like either team was hoping, then came incredibly close to losing to a Paraguay team that didn’t belong on the same pitch as the Spaniards.
They have perhaps the most talented and deepest team in this tournament, but they just aren’t playing well right now. It’s doesn’t take a rocket scientist to isolate the issue - too many players haven’t shown up yet. There’s one stat that shows all of the problems - they have scored six goals, and David Villa has five of them. He has been brilliant, but Fernando Torres has been so bad he might be benched, Xavi has been far from his best, and secondary talents aren’t rising to the occasion.
They seem content to do just enough to get by - and to rely on strong defensive play - but both strategies are dangerous against a team as good as as hot as the Germans are. The Spaniards clearly have the ability to win this game, but only if they play like they can, not like they have.
Germany vs. Spain World Cup Odds
This is, at least based on the odds, one of the closest games we have all tournament. Spain has the slight edge from the oddsmakers - they are at Pick (-130) while Germany is at Pick (even). When factoring in the possibility of a draw in regulation time, Spain is at +155, Germany is close behind at +170, and the Draw is at +225.
Germany vs. Spain Picks and Predictions
Germany Wins If: As the song says, they don’t stop believing. They are playing well beyond expectations this year, and they have absolutely brutalized a couple of pretty decent teams in their last two games. There are so many things that they are doing right, and if they can keep doing them then this one will be as impressively one-sided as the last two. In this tournament the Germans has excelled at isolating weaknesses and exploiting them to death. Spain has certainly shown more than one weakness so far, so Germany needs to maintain their focus, ignore the pressure of this stage and keep on keeping on.
Spain Wins If: They remember that they are Spain. Germany has set the tone right out of the gate in their teams, put their opponents on their heels, and never looked back. Spain, meanwhile, has looked tentative and lazy, and have barely survived. Spain is the more talented team here, though, and better than anyone they know that Germany can be beat on a big stage. If Spain decides that they are here to win this game and this tournament then they can take the initiative to set the tone, and this game suddenly gets more interesting. Spain is every bit as talented offensively, and probably better defensively. If they can show that for the first time this tournament then they’ll make the finals and be solidly favored to win it all.
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