DURBAN, South Africa – The reigning European champion vs. the runner-up.
One of the top scorers at this World Cup vs. No. 2 on the all-time list.
The most dynamic team at this tournament vs. a squad that’s yet to show its full brilliance.
A three-time champion vs. a team craving its first title.
Sounds like a great World Cup final.
Too bad it’ll be the semifinals when Germany and Spain face off today at Moses Mabhida Stadium, with many expecting the winner to go on and be crowned world champion four days later. The Spain-Germany winner will play the Netherlands in the final.
“This would have been a great final, actually,” Germany’s Lukas Podolski said Tuesday. “We want revenge for 2008. When you are in a final you want to win. We still think about that defeat, and it still hurts. We want to reach the final and we’ll do all we can to achieve that.”
There’s a game in every World Cup that comes a round or two too soon, and Germany-Spain definitely qualifies.
Spain has lost all of two games since November 2006, and it ended a 44-year major title drought when it beat Germany to win the European Championship in 2008. David Villa shares the scoring lead at this World Cup with Wesley Sneijder (five goals), and the Spanish defense hasn’t allowed a goal in the knockout stage.
Germany, meanwhile, made old rivals England and Argentina look downright silly in their knockout round games, routing them by a combined score of 8-1 to reach a third straight World Cup semifinal.
Miroslav Klose has regained his old form and, with two goals against Argentina, moved into a tie with countryman Gerd Mueller for second place on the all-time scoring list with 14, one behind Brazil’s Ronaldo.
But it’s not just the stats that make this such a tantalizing matchup. Few teams can keep up when Germany and Spain are at their best, but each is the other’s equal.
“I don’t think there are favorites at this stage,” Spain’s Andres Iniesta said. “What they say about us, we can also say the same thing about them. You can say they are a great team, a team that has players of a very, very high level. For that, it will be a well-deserved semifinal.”
Germany coach Joachim Loew has remade his team since that Euro 2008 loss, bringing in dynamic young players such as Mesut Oezil, Sami Khedira and Thomas Mueller who have given Germany the speed and sharpness it lacked. Despite their youth – with an average age under 25, this is the second-youngest team Germany has ever sent to a World Cup – the Germans are playing with discipline and a seamless chemistry that makes their plays unfold like a symphony.
Their spacing in the midfield is awe-inspiring, their passing so exquisite it almost looks as if the ball is on an invisible wire from one player’s foot to another’s. As for the defense, it’s simply scary. Whenever Lionel Messi or Carlos Tevez appeared on the verge of doing something in the quarterfinal, German defenders swarmed around to force a turnover or a bad shot.
And when Germany is on the counterattack, look out.
Germany will have a somewhat different look without Mueller, who has scored four goals like Klose but is suspended after picking up his second yellow card against Argentina.
Then again, the Germans did OK when Klose was suspended, beating Ghana in the group stage.
“The Germans have played a brilliant World Cup so far,” Iniesta said. “We’re also at the top of our game, I think. It will be a game between two rivals who enjoy having the ball and I think it will be a beautiful battle.”
Even if it’s not in the final.