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Battle of Durban: Final countdown

sports Updated: Jul 07, 2010 02:12 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times

Spain’s first European title came in 1964 but in many ways it was in Vienna two years ago that the glass ceiling broke. After 44 years of unfulfilled promise, their second European crown gave Spain the top slot in the FIFA rankings for the first time. It’s a position they have held for 17 of the last 24 months. See more | Match-up Zone | Roads to semi-finals

Barcelona’s domination of world club football in this period is no coincidence, given more than tangible Barca flavour to the national roster.

Now, Bert van Marwijk, the Dutch coach, likes Spain and Barcelona “even when they lose.” Fernando Hierro, former Real and Spain defensive lynchpin, speaks of a changed mentality,

“What the win in 2008 (European championship) has done is give the team more confidence and they have matured as well.”

Spain are two matches away from being new world champions. Between Durban and Johannesburg, however, the Germans lie in wait. Spain have been patchy at beat in this World Cup. On Wednesday, that won’t be good enough. .

“I think these players want to make history,” said Vicente del Bosque, Spain’s 59-year-old coach, whose lumbering in a dark overcoat by the touchline makes him the odd one out among animated coaches living out their emotions in public.

Restricted by Paraguay’s defensive gridlock, Del Bosque deadpanned that the passage to the semi-final had been tough and uncomfortable.

Looking ahead to the semifinal, Del Bosque said: “Both teams want to reach the final. We know we can play better than we have done so far. Hopefully, it will be an open match and a good advertisement for football.”

Thomas Mueller, but given how the young Germans destroyed England and Argentina, his absence may not be cause for too much concern. And given how pretty Spain can be, Del Bosque’s wish may well come true.

Germany have scored early in three of their five games and, having seized the initiative, haven’t let it go.

Loew says he has tried to blend the pace of the English league, the technical wizardry of
the Spanish and the defensive adroitness of the Italians. Having scored 13 goals and
conceded just two shows whatever he has done, he’s done it right.

“I have seen training sessions that have, at times, reached footballing perfection,” he said.

Despite all this, the German coach said Spain were favourites, because “they don’t have just one Messi. It’s a team that doesn’t make many mistakes, far fewer than the likes of England or Argentina. They work together both in attack and defence. Spain make it look easy.”

Two years ago, Spain were decidedly superior in the battle for Europe. But against a rainbow team — 11 of Germany’s 23 players could have played for another country — in the Rainbow Nation, the story could well be very different.