After escaping unscathed from a nearly disastrous group stage predicament and surviving two difficult encounters against Portugal and Paraguay, Spain has reached the semifinal stage of the World Cup without actually shining, while certainly benefiting from some good recent fortune. It will all come to a head on Wednesday for the Spaniards when they take on a high-flying German side that just steam-rolled over England and Argentina. Nothing short of a perfect team performance will be sufficient this time around for Spain, something they have not been able to do yet in this World Cup.
Reigning European champion Spain is so loaded with exceptional talent from top to bottom that it was inevitably declared the tournament favorite. With Puyol, Pique and Sergio Ramos at the back, Xavi and Iniesta operating in midfield, David Villa and Fernando Torres up front, great expectations accompany the “furia roja.” To this point, Spain has not played a full 90 minute match up to potential. Against Switzerland and Honduras their lack of finishing concentration betrayed them repeatedly. Against Chile, Spain performed just enough to advance and greatly benefited from Chile playing a man short for almost an hour. Against an unimpressive Portugal, Spain won but looked far from invincible, doing still just enough to progress. Every step of the way, David Villa has been the savior, or, as Xavi put it “Villa is our life insurance policy.”
With another opportunity to get all themselves in full alignment and their rhythm going against Paraguay, Spain again was less than impressive and fortunate to advance. Had Oscar Cardozo converted his penalty with a half hour left, Paraguay would have closed down the lanes for the remainder of the match and it might have been game over for Spain. As the game went on Spain pressed without ever dominating a steely defensive Paraguay. The winner came near the end from Saint David Villa once again, late for Paraguay to react, though Roque Santa Cruz missed the equalizer minutes later. It was another close call for Spain, one that fell short of projections. Yet Spain is exactly where it set out to be.
There will be no room for error against Germany. Errant passes from Xabi Alonso and Busquets will be converted into blitzing scoring chances by Podolski, Schweinsteiger and Ozil. Playing the ineffective Fernando Torres for half a game while he is completely out of sync, dribbling into defenders and losing the ball virtually every time he touches it, might not be affordable this time around. Above all, Spain cannot waste any real scoring opportunity against the Germans. With confidence and lucidity, Spain will have to deliver the complete performance that has eluded them thus far, hopefully for them not once, but twice.