So in the end, Germany came up against a team that could defend, and the great counterattackers were exposed in
Sending giant center back
With a relatively young team, Germany did wonderfully well to reach the last four. Its ability on the counter was stunning, testament to the work Löw had done on the training ground with four attacking players:
They are, though, counterattackers, not attackers, and Germany's soccer, devastating as it has been, has largely been reactive in this tournament, delighting those who see goals as the be-all-and-end-all of football. Spain, meanwhile, is about control, and it controlled the semifinal as utterly as it did the final of Euro 2008 against Germany. Back then, in Vienna, the goal came relatively early, 33 minutes in, which allowed those who can't see beyond the score line to delight in the way it kept the ball from Germany in the final hour. In Durban, South Africa, on Wednesday, Spain kept the ball from Germany just as surely; it was just that the goal didn't arrive until the 73rd minute.
This was a triumph for patience, for faith in method, probing away until the breakthrough came. Quite apart from anything else, chasing the ball, as Germany was forced to do, is exhausting. Its players ran a total of about 1.2 miles more than Spain in the game, but the issue isn't merely physical; it's also mental, constantly having to close space down, always having to concentrate. Chances inevitably occur.
The goal, when it did come, was most un-Spanish in nature: a left-wing corner taken by
Spain, perhaps, is still not quite at its best, but it came a lot closer against Germany than in any previous game in South Africa, helped, surely, by the switch to a 4-2-3-1.
Part of Spain's problem is that it is so good in possession teams don't even try to take it on. Opponents simply sit back, pack men behind the ball and hope to nick something on the counterattack. Germany has played on the break all tournament, but not this much. Schweinsteiger, whose forward runs so troubled both England and Argentina, was an almost entirely defensive presence. Only twice before falling behind did Germany produce anything proactive -- a neat exchange of passes between
Spain's passing was perhaps a touch slow before halftime, but it improved after, as it seemed to adopt a deliberate policy of pushing Germany as deep as possible then laying for the back for Alonso to strike. Twice he went close in the opening five minutes of the second half. Then a Capdevila break led to Alonso cutting it back for Pedro to strike, and when his effort was saved, Alonso worked the ball through for
As chance after chance was squandered, the thought occurred that Spain may begin to doubt itself, to ignore its control and, as England had, to lose patience and try to force things. It didn't, and was rewarded with the goal. Had Pedro and Torres, on as a late replacement for Villa, not spurned highly presentable chances on the counterattack, the margin would have been bigger. As it was, 1-0, for the third game in a row, was enough for Spain -- and for proactive soccer.