Monday, July 05, 2010

World Cup Semifinals

We've reached the end of the World Cup, the last week, the semis starting tomorrow... (I'm sure anyone who actually comes here for movie notes instead of uninformed soccer comments will be thrilled. Or would be thrilled if any such readers remain...) They should be good. The quarterfinals had it all - a major (if not exactly world stopping) upset (Holland over Brazil), a rout (Germany over Argentina), two close games, one between heavy favorite Spain and a very gritty Paraguay team, the other an absolute thriller of a game between Uruguay and Ghana. That game, particularly, was something to see - a 1-1 tie through 90 minutes and overtime, with both teams playing to win really... And ending in more or less unimaginable fashion - a flurry of attack by Ghana with no time left, the ref ready to call time the minute the play ended, but it didn't, they put the ball on net, again and again, until a Uruguay player - Luis Suarez, one of their stars - swatted it out. Penalty, with no time left - and Ghana's Gyan (who had 3 goals and 2 penalty shots already in the tourney) missed... Leading to a penalty shootout, which Uruguay rather cooly won. Amazing. Heartbreaking too, for the last African team to go out like this - having played extraordinary soccer in 2 straight overtime knockout games...

It will take some to top that game (though Paraguay and Spain tried, at least on the penalty missing front, both teams missing one within about 2 minutes of each other), but it stands to be a pretty lively semifinal round, and a good final game. Germany's back to looking pretty much unbeatable, putting up 4 for the third time in the tournament, this time against a decent team. But they play Spain, who are showing signs of why they were the favorites coming in. They (Spain) are an odd team - they play a pretty brand of soccer, but have the devil's time scoring goals - their brand of possession soccer starts to look like the most attractive kind of defensive soccer in the world. Germany has been blitzing people, but I don't know if that will work as well if they never get the ball, and that's Spain's game. If I had to pick, I suppose I'd say Germany looks stronger - but this is a pretty close game, and no result will surprise me. (Except maybe a 4-0 Spanish win... )

Meanwhile - The Netherlands comes off beating Brazil to play Brazil's neighbors, Uruguay. Holland has been deadly efficient - beating Brazil might seem like an upset for the ages, though in the rankings, it means #4 beat #1 - Holland has been playing very well the last couple years, they have a load of talent... They are not as thrilling to watch as some past Dutch teams, but they are very organized and efficient, and are able to mount a pretty effective attack when they need to. They have players who can win a game alone - Wesley Snejder has done most of that in this world cup, but he is not alone... Uruguay, on the other hand, has been - as I said last time - playing the part of Italy: strong, team defense, and a spectacular front line to take care of getting the goal or two they need... They will have to play this game without Suarez - which makes it Forlan vs. the world, basically... I suspect they will play for the 0-0 tie (or a set piece goal) - it's not impossible, they did it (shorthanded even) against France, who should have been able to score. Holland is a different matter though - they have looked out of synch on offense, but they are also resourceful and willing to work - I think they can find a goal.

Though in the end - almost any combination for the finals is going to be exciting. Personally, I would love to see Spain and Holland - probably the two best national teams, over time, never to win the cup - that would make a great final. But Germany Holland would be a great final - traditional rivals, one of the perennial champs vs. the great underachievers - a rematch of 74, when the best team never to win lost to the Germans... Revenge! And if the Dutch don't win, well - Uruguay in the finals has to be a fantastic story on its own - a huge underdog - though one carrying two cup wins already. And if they can beat Holland, they should have a chance against the other two, especially with Suarez back on the field....

So yeah - it's going to be a fun ending to the cup. I hope? Holland beats Spain. My cold, analytical opinion? Well - consider that a week ago I would have said, Argentina beats Brazil... notice how that turned out... But I suppose the hard-hearted answer is Germany beats Holland. But those guesses never come out right... so probably Spain beats Uruguay. I will say - almost no result will leave me disappointed - I rather like all the teams left in the fray.

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