I had to step out of my office for a couple of minutes while I was watching Spain’s 1-0 semifinal win over Germany. Spain had the ball in its possession as I was leaving, and when I returned, Spain had the ball in its possession. Xavi to Iniesta to Xavi to Villa to Sergio to Xavi. It’s possible Spain never gave the ball up during that period I was away. Then again Germany had slowed Spain down to a leisurely, midsummer Mediterranean pace—pass-pass-pass, relax. Pass-pass-pass, relax— by clogging the middle in front of its box. Spain was often forced to squirt passes to the wings and hit crosses that the giant German central defender Per Mertesacker gobbled up like so much popcorn. You got the feeling the game could have gone on for days like this. What it sorely needed was a piece of individual brilliance.
Which made it so odd that Spain’s lone goal would come from the shaggy head of Carles Puyol, the center back, who took what looked like a 25 yard runup on Xavi’s corner kick and nearly drove his teammate Gerard Piqué into the net along with the ball. That’s the way Germany is supposed to score, isn’t it? Puyol plays the game is if he’s permanently POed at everyone, and maybe he just got tired of watching his teammates doodling around the field with the Germans watching, waiting, hoping for counterattacking opportunities that rarely arrived. Germany’s best chance happened in the 69th minute when substitute Toni Kroos slapped Lucas Podolski’s cross at Spanish keeper Iker Casillas, who made a smart save considering that he spent most of the match as a spectator. Before Puyol’s strike, Spain’s best chance came in the 58th minute when Iniesta collected a backheel from Xabi Alonso, took it to the line and hit a cross/shot that no one could get a toe on.
Germany was unwilling to play Spain head to head tonight. The Germans played in fear, which is quite uncharacteristic, although somewhat understandable. They were not only under pressure when Spain had the ball, they were under even more pressure when they had the ball—Spain hounded them all over the pitch. Take their ball away, and it just irritates the Spanish.
Spain’s opponent in the final isn’t going to play in fear; Holland isn’t going sit back and wait. Holland is going to attack Puyol & Co. and then have to defend like mad when Spain returns the favor. Which is going to be a lot more fun to watch.