Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Narrative vs. Reality

Every World Cup a certain narrative emerges about a team that is not always in line with the reality on the pitch. So it is, I feel, about Spain going into the semifinals against Germany. They were obviously heavy favorites going into the tournament. Then they lose against Switzerland and everyone starts seeing chinks in the armor. But look at that game again. I've rarely seen such domination. Spain had 20-something shots and should have won it by 5-6 goals. Switzerland was numbingly defensive, but it paid off. And suddenly Spain was not the Spain of two years ago. Nevermind that they went on to beat both Honduras and media favorites Chile comfortably, with the games won inside the half hour. The way they then toyed with Portugal in the last 20 minutes after taking the lead was masterful. They did look off their game against the Paraguayans, who put a lot of pressure on Spain when it had possession, but could that not have been an off game?

Germany, on the other hand, has benefited strongly from taking early leads against England and Argentina. But Spain's defense is a lot more disciplined and, frankly, skillful and I think we'll see a completely different game if there is no early German goal against Spain. Yes, the Germans were outstanding against Argentina. But, again, look at the game (and I have, as they show every game at least 20 times on South African TV) -- Argentina created a dozen chances in the game from which it really should have scored. That they didn't was as much down to bad finishing as strong German defense. Messi's shooting was atrocious. Look instead at the German game against Ghana, where the defense looked very shaky and the Germans were lucky to get away with a win thanks to an Özil wonder volley. I'm not writing Germany off, but I'm picking Spain.

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