July 7th 2010
You know, the other odd thing about semi-finals is how relatively speaking, everything becomes clearer. Take Holland, for example, their task last night was to overcome Uruguay and that was the sole end to their aspirations. There was no worry about Argentina and Messi, the silky skills of the Brazilians, the French, the Italians, the passion of the African continent or even - stop laughing there! - the English. It was just 90 minutes with the ultimate prize in sight. It must be a good feeling to have - it's a long time since England last experienced it, of course - and it somehow puts the rest of the competition into perspective. I've always hated the 'one game at a time' platitude that is regularly trotted out but now, at this stage of the competition it all seems to make sense.
Just a few short days back, it was all about qualifying from a group and concerns about teams that were left in that all looked pretty scary ...but now? They're gone - some were a problem that never even crossed your radar - and all that's left is the here and now. And the here and now looks pretty rosy.
It's hard to quantify this but I can't help but think how some nations - and, of course, that one with the Three Lions on the shirt are prime amongst them - could reflect on how like the likes of the Netherlands have got where they are and consider how easy some of the hard things are. That Algeria game, for example, how many times would England have to play that again to get such a sterile, abject, nervous performance? Sir Alex Ferguson talks about the weight of expectation on the shoulders of Wayne Rooney; was it asking too much? Is the weight of expectation on van Persie or Robben different somehow?
They are rhetorical questions, of course, but if the answer is 'No' then England - and perhaps us fans too - have to look to at things carefully (The issue isn't the same for France and Italy because they have won the World Cup and got to finals in recent memory). If the answer is 'Yes' and the weight on England is higher than on other countries then I fear nothing will change until we breed players with a different mentality; ones with a confidence and maturity to deal with the teams that should be dispatched without question, raising the stakes for the more difficult games but adopting a winning mentality that will somehow bring you to the point where the Netherlands sit today.
Every team at this World Cup can replay the games again in their head and it's a fatuous argument to suggest that, perhaps, on another day that might have been your team playing for a place in the final last night but somehow, it's hard not to see that a more assured performance here or a more attacking mentality there wouldn't, at the very least, have given opportunities that have otherwise been wasted.
It may be of course, that like Uruguay, you'd be crying in your beer this morning because every winning semi-finalist has to produce a losing one too and recent events have proved that even 'successful' sides like Argentina, Brazil and Italy aren't immune from the type of backlash suffered by Cappello and the English, but even so, if you give it a go at least you have the opportunity to feel like the Dutch do right now. Just take it one game at a time....
Germany 0 Spain 1
Venue: Blagg Acres
Sustenance: German Sausage Platter, Serrano Ham, Chorizo, Spanish Potato and Onion Omlette and a large glass of Rijoca
Oh yes! A bullet header by Carles Puyol from a corner put Spain through to Sunday's World Cup final and dumped Germany out. It was no more than Spain deserved, they completely dominated in the second half and barely allowed the Germans more than a couple of half chances.
The decision to start Pedro instead of the out or form - or injured? - Torres completely paid off as the Barcelona forward ran Germany ragged and fully deserved his Man of the Match accolade. The Germans certainly missed the suspended Muller but the Spanish coach Del Bosque deserves a lot of credit for upping the tempo of Spain's play - particularly in the second half - and denying Germany space on the flanks. Pedro's only mistake was not to find substitute Torres when clean through late on, although you might forgive him the temptation to go it alone being as he was having such a storming game.
So, Spain v Holland and a new name on the World Cup and probably everyone's second favourite teams too. On this form I have to stick with my pre-tournament prediction and suggest Spain although hopefully it will be a game more suited to another tournament not this one which has disappointed in terms of excitement and outstanding football.
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