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Tuesday, July 6, 2010
WORLD CUP: Wednesday's semifinal preview

By Scott French

GERMANY VS. SPAIN

When: 11:30 a.m. PT. Where: Moses Mabhida Stadium (Durban)
TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes and Univision (KMEX/Channel 34), 7 a.m.; ESPN Classic, delayed, 3 p.m.; TeleFutura (KFTR/Channel 46), delayed, 7 p.m.; Galavision, delayed, 9:30 p.m.; ESPN2, delayed, 11 p.m.
Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary)
Players to watch: Bastian Schweinsteiger is pivotal for Germany, providing the foundation for its attack and connecting with playmaker Mesut Oezil and wingers Thomas Mueller and Lukas Podolski to make its dynamic game flow. Miroslav Klose, who could be one of three Polish-born players in the starting XI (with Podolski and Piotr Trochowski), has finished nearly everything in his path. He saw scant playing time at Bayern Munich last season and thus seems fresher than those who headed into the Cup after long, exhausting campaigns. Spain counts on David Villa to score goals, and everything revolves around midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta -- their ability to poke holes in Germany's defense may determine the outcome. Also how well La Furia Roja's defense, led by Gerard Pique, can corral the mighty Germans.
The scoop: On paper, at least, this is the game of the tournament. It's a rematch of the Euro 2008 final, won by Spain on Fernando Torres' goal, and pairs the tournament's top scorers (Germany, with 13 goals) against the side that has held the most possession (about two-thirds). Germany has been the clear standout in South Africa, scoring four goals on three occasions, including successive knockout-stage routs of England and Argentina. This is the youngest Nationalmannschaft since the 1934 World Cup, and it's game is, in Schweinsteiger's words, “carefree and bursting with flair.” They'll be without Mueller, suspended following a criminal yellow card in the quarterfinals, and coach Joachim Loew's options on the right are Trochowski, Toni Kroos and Cacau. None are Mueller's equal. Klose, who has 14 goals in three World Cups, needs one more to share the all-time lead with Brazil's Ronaldo. Germany is 7-0-2 when he scores in the World Cup. The German defense has been solid, but it hasn't played an opponent, not even Argentina, that sees as much of the ball as does Spain. The European champions have been a step off at the finish, but they've played some beautiful flowing soccer through, primarily, Xavi and Iniesta, the best midfield pairing on the planet. Since Germany prefers to attack, there might be more space in which to operate for the Spaniards. But Germany has a quick, potent counterattack, and it will have an advantage by absorbing pressure, then bursting forward through Oezil and Podolski. Torres, who hasn't been effective up front, figures to get another chance from coach Vicente Del Bosque, but if he can't contribute what is needed, Pedro is ready on the bench. Paul the prognosticating octopus, from Oberhausen's Sea Life Aquarium, has correctly predicted every German game in the Cup. His choice for this one: Spain.
History: Germany has played in 10 World Cup semifinals, but it's won only four of them (and advanced twice more on penalty-kick shootouts following ties). The victories were over Austria in 1954, the Soviet Union in 1966, France in 1986 and South Korea in 2002, and the PK triumphs followed scintillating battles against France in 1982 (a 3-3 draw with four goals in the extra period) and England in 1990 (a 1-1 tie). Germany reached the 1974 final in Munich, in which it beat the Netherlands, by winning a second-stage group. Italy has twice beaten Germany at this stage, prevailing, 2-0, four years ago on goals in the 119th and 121st minutes.
Prediction: Spain 2, Germany 1

Potential lineups
Germany:
1-Manuel Neuer; 16-Philipp Lahm, 17-Per Mertesacker, 3-Arne Friedrich, 20-Jerome Boateng; 6-Sami Khedira, 7-Bastian Schweinsteiger; 15-Piotr Trochowski, 8-Mesut Oezil, 10-Lukas Podolski; 11-Miroslav Klose.

Spain: 1-Iker Casillas; 15-Sergio Ramos, 3-Gerard Pique, 5-Carles Puyol, 11-Joan Capdevila; 14-Xabi Alonso, 16-Sergio Busquets; 6-Andres Iniesta, 8-Cavi, 7-David Villa; 9-Fernando Torres.