Quick impressions after a match that will undoubtedly cost me at least five years of my life…
1) Had someone told me that this Spanish team would reach the first semi-final round of their history by scrapping 1-0 wins, struggling mightily to create chances, suffering terribly to finish teams off, and owing goddess Luck a good deal of their survivorship in this tournament, I would have never believed it. This is clearly not the team that won Euro08.
Up to now, Del Bosque has decided to stick to a similar line-up to the one Aragonés used in Austria (yes, I know, except for the two defensive midfielders), but for whatever reasons (two years older, a long season, injuries), most of those who were starters back in 2008 are now pallid impressions of their old selves. It’s worked so far, but we will not beat the impressive German machine we witnessed earlier today when half of our players continuously miss four-metre passes, fail to control easy balls or can’t keep up with rivals in short run. Spain’s first half was poor beyond belief. It’s time for Del Bosque to make changes. Otherwise, Spain’s first semi-final match ever could end up as ugly as Argentina’s quarterfinal game today... or worse.
2) Casillas. First things first, we owe him this win. He followed Reina’s advice – the Liverpool keeper studies most penalty takers, knew that Cardozo preferred going to his own right and warned Iker before kickoff – and with his save kept Spain alive in the match. Had Cardozo scored, with 1-0 down this game was as good as over. His experience showed and you’ll read plenty of headlines about it tomorrow. However, I wouldn’t be totally true to what I saw today if I didn’t say that he’s still quite scared of the ball, that it takes ages for him to leave the goal and that his doubts are not helping Spain’s back four at all. And even with all that, he gave us the match in a silver tray…
3) It’s quite possible that when a team break such a long jinx, such us this semi-final curse for Spain, it has to happen in the most bizarre way possible. Arsenal beating Liverpool at home with George Graham on the bench in 1989, after 18 years of frustration? Or using a rare baseball analogy, are you familiar with the Red Sox coming from 3-0 down to beat the Yankees and then win the Finals in 2004? Those cases saw an amazing sequence of bizarre events conspiring to make something unexpected happen. I am telling you, three years ago Spain would have lost this match, believe me. Something has changed, and it’s hard to say what, but even though I am not enjoying the process, I really like the results. Maybe I’m becoming Italian?
4) How many times will we (we = worldwide football family) have to suffer an unbelievably outrageous display of refereeing ineptitude to change the way refs are selected for the final rounds of the World Cup? What is the process that leads FIFA to decide that some bloke from Guatemala, hardly a football reference as a league, should be chosen for a quarterfinals match? I know referees from top leagues also make mistakes, obviously, but are much more used to deal with stars and large crowds, and usually don’t refrain from making tough decisions such as sending off players or awarding consecutive penalty kicks to the same team. And I am saying this on behalf of both teams, who have plenty of reasons to complain about the awful job of Carlos Batres.
Thank God for David Villa, or else I’d now be writing about Al Gandhour, or that other ref from Benin… Simply outrageous.
5) Together with a couple of Champions League finals and a few Real Madrid vs. Barcelona derbies, this match ranks up there in the level of importance of top football events I have had the privilege of watching live. Keeping that in mind, I can’t believe this stadium is the best FIFA and / or South Africa can do for a quarterfinal round (believe me, it is bad. Try to get something to eat or go to the gents during halftime, visit the Media Centre or get to the surroundings by car. A complete nightmare, which makes it even worse when compared with Cape Town or Durban). I can’t believe there were whole sections of a not that big of a stadium totally empty. I can’t believe the public started a Mexican wave in the 20th minute of the first half, while the contest was as tense as it gets. I can’t believe no one chanted for the whole duration of the match (and it wasn’t only because of the vuvuzelas). I can’t believe that the couple sitting in front of me thought of getting up to order ice cream just when Cardozo was about to take the penalty kick (‘You will wait for a minute to do that, will ya’, my neighbour screamed in disgust). In summary, not the footballing experience that I expected for my baptism of quarter-finals’ victories.
6) Believe me, I am happy. I just re-read the previous five points and it sounds like something I would have written after a brutal defeat. I feel ecstatic. We’ve never gone this far. I love Villa. It’s indeed time to celebrate.
And bring on the Germans!