July 06, 2010

Tomorrow's semifinal involves two teams that have met each other on more than a few occasions. In World Cup play, they have played three times, with Germany winning twice and the teams drawing on the other occasion.

The first game, in 1966, was the final game of group play; Spain, then as now, was the defending European champions, but thanks to a loss in their opening game to Argentina, needed a win to advance, while the then-West Germans needed only a tie. The Spanish took a quick early lead, only to wilt beneath the future Cup finalists, losing 2-1. It is a game remembered, if at all, for this spectacular impossible-angled shot by Lotthar Emmerich to tie the game late in the first half. For more of a taste of what this game looked like to a mid-60's TV viewer in Great Britain, here's the broadcast of the first ten minutes, complete with an opening musical montage of Masterpiece Theatre and NFL Films:

The most recent game came in 1994, another group play game that ended in a 1-1 draw. Both teams were playing in the easiest group, although Spain had to settle for a tie in its opener, against South Korea, so the result suited the occasion. A German-language broadcast of the game:

But it was the second game that has always been a dagger in Spanish hearts, in 1982. Spain had gone into the Cup as one of the favorites, especially since they were the host nation, but again got off to a slow start, needing a late penalty kick to tie Honduras in their opener (notice a pattern?). They came from behind to defeat Yugoslavia, 2-1, in the next game, but again after earning a penalty kick under very questionable circumstances. West Germany also got off to a terrible start that year, being shocked its group opener to Algeria, 2-1, then getting its mojo back in a decisive 4-1 victory over Chile.

Because of the brilliant manner in which FIFA scheduled World Cup games back then, the final games in group were not played simultaneously, so both Germany and Spain knew what they needed to do to advance to the second round. Since Algeria had lost its second game (0-2, to Austria), but had won its third (3-2, vs. Chile) the day before, Germany and Austria found themselves in the serendipitous position of both being able to qualify if the appropriate result could be attained, which, as it so happens, was for Germany to win by a margin of less than three goals. Which, against no odds, they did. Germany scored ten minutes in to take the lead, and the two teams conspired thereafter to play kick-the-ball-around for the next eighty or so minutes before the ref mercifully blew the whistle, sending both teams through to the second round, and eliminating Algeria. As befits the most blatantly rigged result since the 1919 World Series, the game has its own Wikipedia page.

Almost forgotten is the fact that both Spain and Northern Ireland were in the same position when their game started two hours later. Both teams would advance if Northern Ireland won the game, 1-0, whereas a scoreless tie would eliminate the Men of Ulster, whilst a margin of defeat greater than a goal would knock out the Spanish. Maybe it was the fact that Northern Ireland had a man red-carded in the first half, or the fact that neither team could score early, but more likely the fact that the winner would get to play in a weaker second round group, this game ended up being one of the more exciting, hard-fought games of the first round, with Spain losing in the end, 1-0. No Anshcluss here, please.

For the second round in 1982, FIFA had another inspired idea: after having played the previous two World Cups with two four-team round-robin qualifying groups leading directly into the Finals, it juiced up the proceedings by creating four three-team groups, with the winners reaching the semi-finals. The only problem is that all three teams could not be playing simultaneously; one of the teams would play its second game against an opponent playing its first. That would be fine if the opening game resulted in a win or loss, but if the game drew, then the team playing its opener a few days hence would be instantly eliminated if it lost.

As it so happens, Spain and Germany were, along with England, put into the same group, and Germany and England drew its opener, making the Germany-Spain match-up that followed a sudden death result for the loser. Under massive national pressure, Spain again fell short, losing heartbreakingly 2-1, and suffering one of the earliest knock-outs of a host nation in World Cup history.

Needless to say, Spain can exorcise quite a few demons with a win tomorrow.

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