South Africa Match Observations: Quarterfinals, Part II

Some random observations after the Quarterfinals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup:

Argentina 0-4 Germany: It took less than 3 minutes for Germany’s Tomas Mueller to get on the end of a set piece free kick from Bastien Schweinsteiger to head home the game’s first goal. Germany let it be known from the beginning that they were going to take advantage of space, switch play frequently, use deft touch passing, and make diagonal runs. Argentina wanted to slowly build sustained attacks but early on Germany was disrupting their play in the midfield; their speedy counterattack was working against the Germans, though. Good back-and-forth action; obviously these two teams were going to attack each other relentlessly. Argentina’s attack was surprisingly fundamental; they weren’t doing the things (spreading the field, diagonal runs, taking advantage of space) that had worked for them until now. I would argue that this was a result of Argentina having respect for the German counterattack and not wanting to get caught with their pants down. But going down early Argentina was sending men forward in numbers. Mueller and Schweinsteiger were the focal point of the German attack (expected to see more of Mesut Oezel contribute in this role) and a wall in front of the backline. About 20 minutes in Argentina started to make effective through balls to forwards (particularly Carlos Tevez) frequently beating the German offside trap. Part of the reason the German backline was able to hold most of the game was because, unlike fullback Phillip Lahm on the right flank going forward with frequency as part of the attack, Jerome Boateng stayed home on the left and took care of his defensive responsibilities, making a virtual 3-man backline on Argentine counters to effectively disrupt Argentina’s ability to go forward on their right. Better offensive buildup from Argentina in the second half, spreading the ball around and maintaining possession effectively. But they were vulnerable in the back, where their already weak defense was beginning to lose their shape. Three quick goals from Miroslav Klose in the 69th and 89th minutes and Arne Friedrich (!) in the 74th minute put paid to the fact that when things were falling apart, (1) Argentina’s pre-tournament perception that they were weak in the back was very accurate, and (2) Argentine coach Diego Maradona had no answers in the face of things going wrong. A stunningly clinical victory for Germany, who easily picked Argentina apart. I don’t know what’s wrong with their club teams, but Klose and Lukas Podolski are still world-class players and clearly not out of form. The future of German football is in good hands with Oezel and Mueller, both clearly world class players in the making.

Paraguay 0-1 Spain: Paraguay dropped all of their strikers for this match. Paraguay played a pressing game, keeping the ball in the Spain half even when they didn’t have the ball. Spain, on the other hand, were probably more patient than they’ve been to this point, content to keep their composure and getting forward very carefully. Clearly Spain was going to wait and see if Paraguay could keep the frenetic workrate and pressure up all game long. Paraguay did such a good job of closing down the ball by multiple players that Spain couldn’t put together a creative, sustained attack. On the occasions that David Villa or Fernando Torres were on the ball in the penalty area the Paraguayan backline were cool customers, denying space, unworriedly taking the ball away from the ball carrier, then calmly distributing the ball forward (not panicking and just clearing it out). How’s this for stranger than fiction? Spanish defender Gerrard Pique pulled down Oscar Cardoza in the box which got Paraguay a penalty in the 57th minute – only for Spanish keeper Iker Casillas to stop the penalty. Then less than a minute later, Paraguayan defender Alcarez brought down David Villa in the box which got Paraguay a penalty in the 59th minute – that also resulted in a miss by Xabi Alonso. You just got a feeling that Spain was eventually going to get that one goal as they managed to open things up dramatically, with Paraguay just not able to keep that furious pressure up for 90 minutes. The eventual goal came about in the 82 minute when a Spanish breakaway resulted in two shots on the Paraguayan goal at point-blank range, and David Villa finally breaking through on a goal-post rebound. It was academic after that: Paraguay tried to attack in numbers but didn’t have the finesse to create any sustained offense (although Casillas came up big on a lose ball in the box in the 87th minute). The resulted we all expected happened but kudos to a Paraguayan side that made Spain work for it. Spain’s semi against Germany should be the game of the tournament.

— daveydoug