July 10, 2010

Sorry, but there's no vintage video of past World Cup games between Spain and Holland, simply because the World Cup finalists have never played each other in this tournament. Not only that, but they've never been placed together in the same qualifying group. They've never played against one another in the next biggest international tournament, the European Championship, or in the third, the Confederations Cup. To find the last time the two teams have met with anything on the line, you have to go back to 1983, when the teams battled to qualify for the Euros the following year.

That is itself an interesting story. Head-to-head, Spain and Holland both had 2-1 wins against the other at home, so the matter of qualifying came down to how well they fared against the other teams in that group; specifically, who could pound the bottom team in their group, Malta, by the most goals. The sport of soccer not having figured out yet that games needed to be played simultaneously to maintain integrity when something like goal differential was involved as the tie-breaker, Spain went into the final qualifying game knowing that if it beat the Maltese by eleven or more goals, it would qualify for the 1984 European Championships. The Dutch, having played their final game four days earlier, could only sit on their hands and watch.

Spain scored first that night, but Malta came right back and tied the game up ten minutes later. After 25 minutes, the game was tied, but the Spanish scored two quick goals to retake the lead. That's where the game still til halftime, 3-1; Spain needed to somehow score nine goals in the second half to win the group. Which it then proceeded to do, obliterating Malta 12-1, and sending them on their way to the Euros, where they finished second. This they managed in spite of the fact that Spain had not scored more than three goals in a game up to that point, and had not beaten anyone by more than two goals. A fishy result for all concerned, one that still rankles the Dutch:
Germany 3, Uruguay 2 [Third Place]: The Kings of Bronze of international soccer, Germany, "won" their fourth third-place game in soccer's showcase tournament, coming from behind in the second half to win a typically lively affair. Thomas Müller and Luis Suárez, both barred by infractions from playing in their team's semifinal losses, figured prominently in the scoring, Müller knocking in a rebound in the 19th minute off a rebound for the Germans' opening goal, and Suárez coolly setting up the Uruguayan opener a few minutes later. On paper a meaningless game, the consolation final has usually been a connoisseurs' feast, in that one of the teams is usually lucky to have advanced this far, and with the fortuitous participation of the fifth-best team from South America in the festivities, together with the Germans playing a very young line-up geared towards 2014, today proved no exception.

July 09, 2010

Germany and Uruguay have played each other three times before in the Cup, each before the fall of the Iron Curtain allowed us to retire the moniker "West Germany." In 1966, they drew each other in the quarterfinals; the West Germans were expected to breeze, but after scoring an early fluke goal struggled to put away the Uruguayans, until a rather questionable non-call in the penalty area pissed off the South Americans, who were convinced that the powers-that-be had it in for non-European teams. Deciding that the best revenge was to play kick-the-kraut the rest of the way, at the expense of having two of their players ejected, Team Uruguay collapsed in the final twenty minutes, losing 4-0, and hastened their fall from the ranks of world soccer powers thereafter:

The teams also met in a first-round battle in 1986, resulting in a 1-1 draw. The West Germans thoroughly dominated the game, but had to play catch-up almost the entire way after a bone-headed back pass by the usually dependable Thomas Berthold allowed Uruguay a cheap early goal. Relentless pressure paid off for the Germans in the final ten minutes, allowing both teams to walk away with a point:

But it was back in 1970 that the two countries played each other in a game that, like tomorrow's, really didn't matter, for third place. The Germans, incorporating some of the stars of the team that would dominate '70's soccer, had breezed through the first round, winning all three of their games, then rallied from two goals down in the second half to stun the defending champions, England, in overtime, 3-2, thereby defeating their historic rival for the first of many times. In the semis, against Italy, they played one of the classic games in the history of the World Cup, a see-saw, back-and-forth game that saw three lead changes, an injury time goal by the Germans to tie the game at the end of regulation, and five extra time goals before the Azzurri finally won, 4-3.

Uruguay, on the other hand, had played a distinctly unmemorable tournament, scoring a grand total of four goals in five games (half of them in their opener against Israel). Somehow, they finagled their way it into the semis, where they took an early lead, but were promptly and easily dumped by future champ Brazil, 3-1. Having done absolutely nothing to merit their high placement, and playing against a German team that had played 240 minutes of soccer in the previous five days, Uruguay then proceeded to have its best game of the Cup, but to no avail, losing 1-0. The highlights:
Quick, which team has finished third in the World Cup the most times? Time's up, it's....Germany!!! Yep, the Germans "won" the Bronze in 1934, 1970, and most recently, in 2006. And guess who's lost the most consolation games...you got it, none other than tomorrow's opponent, Uruguay, the only country to have lost the Third Place game more than once, in 1954 and in 1970, the latter occasion being bested by the Germans.

There used to be a consolation game in the NCAA tournament, not only between the two Final Four losers, but even between the two losers of the regional semifinals, but since neither the fans nor the teams were particularly psyched about a game that had little in the way of relevance, the practice was discontinued after 1980. FIFA soldiers on with the idea, however, and the game tends to be an aperitif to the main course the following day.

July 07, 2010

Spain 1, Germany 0: A better game to watch than to summarize. Nothing flashy, just good, solid, efficient German-style football, used in the crusade to beat the Germans, who obviously were exhausted from having to celebrate all their goals in the earlier rounds. First time since 1978 both teams in Finals are championship-virgins.
Why are my compatriots in the progressive blogosphere such whiny assclowns? I guess it's unfair to limit such a generalization to left-of-center bloggers, since someone like Andrew Breitbart or Patterico can sound positively gruesome when they detect some trivial bit of political bias in the media, but I don't generally don't read (and don't care) what the far right has to say.

But when I'm reading blogs that are ostensibly on my side of the debate, I really don't give a shit about why you can't get on the Sunday talk shows, or how awful it is that the MSM was so nice to Bush in the run-up to Iraq. Here's a clue: angry, whiny ass-clowns may be right, and have mucho integrity, and may spark the flame of social justice, but it's the quiet, shrewd people who actually accomplish something. It's the difference between Abe Lincoln, who freed the slaves, and William Lloyd Garrison, who didn't.

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.
Holland 3, Uruguay 2: In the highest-scoring regulation semi-final game in 48 years, the Dutch held on to defeat an undermanned but gutsy team from South America, and will now return to the Final for the first time since the glory years of the Clockwork Oranje. I don't know if Uruguay's performance this time was the biggest fluke since Renee Zellwegger won the Oscar, but three cheers to the losers.
For those few of you are interested, today's semifinalists, Holland and Uruguay, have played once before in the World Cup, all the way back in 1974. At the time, Uruguay was a perennial contender, having made the semifinals four years earlier, but had gone through a prolonged period of stagnancy, dating back to its previous championship a quarter century earlier. In short, they were similar to Argentina was in this World Cup: a team that was usually to be reckoned with, but with its glory years long behind it (I believe they sent the oldest team to that tournament).

Their opponents, Holland, was the team that everybody was looking forward to watching, with the best player in the world at the time, Johann Cruyff, and a supporting cast much to be envied (Neeskens, Rep, Rensenbrink, Surrbier, etc.). But they hadn't played in the World Cup recently, and no one knew exactly how they would handle the Big Time when they stepped onto the field against Uruguay. The highlights below of their 2-0 victory hardly do justice to their dominance:

The score could have easily been 6-0, and was the first sign that year the balance of power was shifting in the sport. Uruguay was quickly eliminated in 1974, and thereafter disappeared from the ranks of the sport's powers, at least until this year.