Some random observations after the Semi-Finals:
Brazil 1-7 Germany: Without Neymar as the focal point of their attack, Brazil went with Bernard up front on the left, with Oscar in the center as the creative forward with the freedom to roam. Germany looked to change things up themselves, bringin in career goalscorer Miroslav Klose as the loan target man up front, pushing forward Thomas Mueller to the right flank and forward Mesut Oezil to the left. Also, Phillip Lahm was pushed back in his customary right fullback role, which allowed Bastien Schweinsteiger to come in as the holding midfielder. My guess is that, to deal with the world-class Brazilian wingers, Germany wanted a more natural defensive fullback than the four center backs they had been using up until now. Germany surprisingly allowed Brazil to dominate possession early, letting them build up an attack from the back. Of all the players to leave unmarked on a corner, Thomas Mueller is the wrong person. Gawd the Germans are expert at making that short combination passing in the box work to perfection. Brazil’s inability to close down the German attack and their disorganization in the midfield and the back allowed Germany to take advantage of spacing both in the center and on the flanks – and a Brazil team in shambles got throttled early. Against a team as great (usually) like Brazil, when you get them down for the count, you have to go for the jugular – and that’s exactly what Germany did. Most surprising was the play in the attacking end by Sami Khedira, usually a defensive/holding midfielder who went forward and literally toyed with the Brazilian defense. It was obvious that Brazil just mentally checked out; they played with no pride, conviction, or effort. German coach Joachim Loew made the mistake of bringing in Per Mertesacker in the center of defense for Mats Hummels, which gave Brazil a small glimmer of hope that they could take advantage of a weakness in the center of defense. Putting Lahm on the German right flank worked to perfection as he dispossessed and interrupted the Brazilian attack at every turn. A Master class by Die Mannschaft. It is hard to think of any championship-quality team that was ever embarrassed and humiliated like this.
Netherlands 0-0 Argentina (2-4 aet): After yesterday’s semi-final destruction, both teams spent the first minutes of this game feeling each other out like cautious boxers, getting and maintaining possession, and building from the back, bobbing in and out of the attacking end. As usual, the Dutch still looked to make those long passes over the top of the Argentine defense to the front players. And as usual, when the Dutch were able to get Arjen Robben on the end of one of their long passes into the box, he looked to make a run at the goal by himself, regardless of whoever had him blanketed or what teammates may have been trailing into the attacking end. Closing down Lionel Messi was the primary goal of the Dutch midfield. Both sides had the flanks pretty well blanketed, although the Dutch were slightly better at switching play. Zabaleta did a good job of picking up the attacking slack on the flank with the absence of Angel di Maria. Way too cautious of a game all around, although Argentina did pick up the slack a little in the second half. The best scoring chance for either team came late in the game; for Argentina in the 90th minute, for the Netherlands in the 98th minute. This was by far the least productive game for both Robben and Messi, the stars scorers of both teams. Even without their defensive expert Nigel de Jong (substituted after 28 minutes due to injury), the Dutch were able to suffocate Messi. Argentina were anything but free-flowing this game, and they have yet to offer that truly convincing display in any match during this tournament. I could understand what Dutch coach Louis van Gaal was trying to do with his substitutes if they were actually trying to score, but I never got the sense that that’s what they were trying to do, so not having the ability to bring on his penalty kick stopping specialist Tim Krul late made no sense. While Messi has gotten all the attention, midfielder Javier Mascherana is quietly having the best tournament of any Argentine, throwing a wet blanket over any opposition attack that tries coming through the middle. The Dutch shut down Argentina and threw a sack over Messi, but they couldn’t do all that and still impose themselves upon the game as well.