COS columnist Tom Smith looks at the last 4 teams and asks which deserve it the most.
On the eve of the semi finals, it seems like a good time to look at the last 4 teams and ask if any of the four would be worthy winners and if indeed the tournament has proved that class is permanent and form only temporary.
Spain and Germany play in tomorrow’s semi final, crowning a European super delegate to the Final which will have been well tested throughout the competition. Whilst today’s final pits the sole remaining South American team against the ‘Brazilians of Europe’ in a Dutch team that may never have an easier chance of winning a world cup.
The Dutch seemed to have cruised through the competition playing with the handbrake on; until half time in the quarter final against Brazil when a challenge did come their way. To run out 2-1 winners 45 minutes later after such an impressive first half performance from Brazil will always be seen as a great result. But Brazil’s implosion in the second half through a culmination of Felipe Melos head (in both physical and emotional senses) wandering astray, an otherwise solid goalkeeper in Inter’s Champions League winning Julio Cesar deciding to go on holiday early and a defensive collapse that even allows Dirk Kuyt to provide an assist from inside the box and Wesley Sneijder use his full 5’7” stature to score with his head, flatters the Dutch who could end up in a World Cup final without I dare say deserving it?
Some great Dutch teams and players of the past would have killed to have had their route to the final. Facing a country whose population tips the scales at 3.5 million would again seem like a very simple story on paper, but in reality, the footballing lineage of Uruguay is not to be overlooked. Ranked 16 in the world by FIFA before the tournament, twice winners of the World Cup (1930 and 1950) and winners of the Copa America 14 times, a record only equalled by Argentina, (Brazil have only 8 Continental championships to their name). Their qualification was hardly spectacular, and they had to endure a play-off with Costa Rica with a narrow 2-1 aggregate win.
The Netherlands has a comparative football pedigree and with only 6 million citizens from which to pick a team, the Cruyf, Neeskens and Rep era of Total Football has always carried more weight perhaps than they deserved. They continually provide the world with some of the most gifted footballers, be it in stylish strikers like Van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp and Robin Van Persie or in midfield playmakers now like Sneijder and Robben and before them, Seedorf, Davids, Rijkaard, Gullit amongst many more. Put this natural talent for producing flair players alongside a well established and vibrant domestic league that nurtures strong disciplined defensive players and tactically aware holding midfielders, the Dutch seem to have it all in a small bright Oranje country.
This team, excelled in qualifying (but then so did England) and has beaten everyone in front of them so far, if they reach the final as the form book points, they will face a team in a very different league altogether.
Germany and Spain have balanced teams intent on scoring goals and winning games with a positive plan. They are deserved semi finalists and either would be worthy winners. Brazil played in a perfunctory missionary position style for which never allowed their players to leave everything on the field. The rigidity to which Dunga arranged his team meant in the 2nd half against Holland, they looked lost as to how to chase a game. Dungas team were set up not to loose and so when you are loosing its hard to see a way out.
The insistence on playing two defensive midifleders is something I have discussed before, and it will be to Spains determent if they continue to play both Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso against a Germany team that looks the most balanced and natural in world football. The best argument is for Alonso to be replaced by the Barcelona bound Cesc Fabregas whose rhythm of short and quick passing fits better which the Barcelona players, Xavi, Inesta, Busquets, Pique, Puyol and now Villa. Its sad to say that Alonso’s time in England has engendered in him a tendency to break Spains passing rhythm with direct balls omitting their creative heart. One in which Andreas Inesta, now back to full fitness it seems, looks well suited too. His dribbling, vision and control have exceed that produced by his club teammate Messi this summer and if Spain can test Germany in their unique fashion, the Germans will face the test Argentina never gave them.
Argentina looked like they had been designed on the back of a Kevin Keegan playbook, 3 strikers and two wingers is even too much for Javier Mascherano to carry. Juan Sebastian Verons absence was keenly felt and his leadership and passing in midfield lead to near German domination.
Germany may have surprised some with their decisive and fluent approach going forward, and looking at Podolski, Klose and Muller as world class natural goalscorers does seem awkward even now. But the quality of the final ball and speed at which their players’ move the ball has almost rendered their need for a David Villa upfront redundant. Mario Gomes could probably have had 5 goals in this tournament (?)
Germany has seen down the challenge of a pathetic England and disappointing Argentina, in style and should they be able to get past the most talented side in the tournament, they will indeed be worthy finalists. In conclusion, the Dutch still have something to prove, in order to deserve their place alongside Germany or Spain to be crowned the worlds best.