Spain set for final push at World Cup
Wednesday’s semi-finals seems especially hopeful for Spain as Germany plays without the dynamic Thomas Mueller whose counter-attacks have floored both England and Argentina.Durban – A month in South Africa has brought Spain full circle.
The European champions have illuminated Africa's first World Cup with only occasional flashes of their bewitching best.
Yet memories of their capacity to entrance burn sufficiently brightly for Xavi and co. to have been reinstalled as favourites to be dancing jigs of joy when football's most coveted prize is handed over at Soccer City next Sunday evening.
First, though, there is the matter of a semi-final date, here on Wednesday, with a Germany squad that has grown more buoyant with every step on African soil.
At stake is a place in the final against either the Netherlands, whose elimination of Brazil - the one side the Spanish really feared - was celebrated almost as much in Andalucia as it was in Amsterdam, or Uruguay, sole South American survivors in a tournament that promised so much more for the continent.
The humiliation of Diego Maradona's Argentina in Sunday's second round tie in Cape Town followed similar four-goal demolitions of Australia and England in earlier matches.
Yet still there lingers a suspicion that Joachim Loew's side are not quite as potent a brew as their results suggest.
Serbia showed in the group stages that Germany can be both contained and beaten while, despite the ultimately convincing win, there was an extended wobble in the England match that, had Frank Lampard's goal not been erroneously disallowed at a critical stage, may have shoved the tournament down a different road.
Looking at a semi-final cast that includes the likes of Dirk Kuyt, one of the water carriers for Steven Gerrard at Liverpool, and Diego Forlan, offloaded by Manchester United when Wayne Rooney was signed, England's players will certainly be kicking themselves over their absence.
They will be aware though that their downfall was the result of their inability to combine sustained pressure with sustained possession of the ball.
On that score, Spain currently have no peers and Germany's opportunities to mount the kind of counter-attacks which floored both England and Argentina will be further restricted by the loss of Thomas Mueller, Bayern Munich's dynamic 20-year-old who is suspended for the semi-final.
Spain have their worries too. The pressure of translating the combined talents of an exceptional generation of players into the country's first World Cup is enormous and Fernando Torres has been nowhere near his best so far.
David Villa's five goals have ensured the Liverpool striker has not had to be, however, and it could be that the Barcelona-bound striker's personal battle with Germany's slightly lumbering centrebacks represents Spain's ticket to the final.
Luis Suarez's decisive goal-line handball in Uruguay's quarter-final win over Ghana may have been the instinctive reaction of a player desperately trying to help his team. But it has resulted in him being cast as the pantomime villain of the tournament, the man whose cheating denied Africa a place in the last four.
The Dutch win over Brazil meanwhile was marred by the diving that earned their right-back Gregory van der Wiel a yellow card and enabled an unsanctioned Arjen Robben to win the free-kick that led to their equaliser.
The hope is that artistry of a more uplifting kind decides the semi-finals.
AFP / Expatica