Germany will be playing against many Lionel Messis, says Joachim Loew, who probably has Spain’s midfield maestros Andres Iniesta and Xavi most in mind ahead of Wednesday’s semifinal.
Unlike Argentina, who appeared over-reliant on Barcelona star Messi, the danger from Spain comes from all over the pitch, and none more so than in midfield.
Loew will probably agree with the assessment of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson who famously said: “I don’t think Iniesta and Xavi have ever given the ball away in their lives.”
Xavi had a pass rate success of 89 per cent at Euro 2008 when he was voted the best player of the tournament. And Loew won’t have forgotten his inch-perfect pass, which set up the winning goal for Fernando Torres in Spain’s 1-0 defeat of Germany in the final.
“We have a very clear philosophy with Spain and we have had it for some years. We know our game, how to play and we try to beat every team we meet,” Xavi has said of Spain’s passing game.
Xavi and Iniesta are the key figures. While Xavi dictates the pace and angles, Iniesta often moves wide or further forward and is often a match-winner with a killer pass or a goal himself.
The European champions now have a Barcelona triumvirate in the middle of the park, with Iniesta and Xavi joined by club teammate Sergio Busquets alongside Real Madrid’s Xabi Alonso.
Spain can also call on another genial playmaker in Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas — perhaps also a future Barca player — if Vicente del Bosque wants even greater numbers in the middle.
But Germany can counter with a Xavi of their own — Bastian Schweinsteiger, who is now orchestrating operations for Germany in similar fashion.
“He gives the game a lot of symmetry and structure, he can vary the pace and also gives the team a lot emotionally because he is permanently in movement,” Loew said of the Bayern Munich man.
Schweinsteiger, who was the outstanding figure in Germany’s 4-0 trouncing of Argentina, will again be joined by Sami Khedira and Mesut Oezil in the central midfield areas. Lukas Podolski brings width on the left while Thomas Mueller — suspended for the game — has been doing the same on the right.
“Spain have an experienced midfield axis in Iniesta and Xavi who have played for years together at Barcelona,” Loew pointed out.
Germany’s midfield is far less experienced, but Loew believes Khedira and Schweinsteiger, who have struck up a perfect understanding in the centre, can counter the Spanish duo.
But for injuries, Germany’s midfield may have had an entirely different look about it in South Africa.
Loew lost both Chelsea’s Michael Ballack and Bayer Leverkusen’s defensive midfielder Simon Rolfes to injury. Thomas Hitzslperger, who has just joined West Ham, was previously a Loew mainstay but was discarded after he was dropped by Stuttgart and a move to Lazio did not help him rediscover his form.
It has led to Schweinsteiger coming from a wide position to take over the Ballack role in the centre.
Schweinsteiger thanks Bayern’s Dutch coach Louis van Gaal for the switch last season.
“Louis van Gaal gave me the chance to play there at Bayern Munich and it went very well. Now it is going well with the national team but that is only because of the help I have received from the whole team,” he said.
It is six years ago that Schweinsteiger earned the first of his now 78 caps, a remarkable tally for a player not yet quite 26, but this tournament has demonstrated a new maturity.
Germany legend and honorary Bayern president Franz Beckenbauer noted: “What has changed with Schweinsteiger is that his football has become more important to him than his choice of hairstyle.”
Keywords: 2010 FIFA World Cup