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EURO 2008 FINAL, VIENNA
The destination of the Henri Delaunay trophy could hinge on the fitness of Germany captain Michael Ballack, who has a calf strain and missed Saturday training.
Tournament hot-shot David Villa is of course also missing for Spain, but the absence of the Chelsea midfielder for Germany looks the more crucial. Cesc Fabregas slotted in against Russia and pulled the strings, while Daniel Guiza has shown his prowess in the box already.
My hunch yesterday was that Germany’s big match mentality would keep them a nose ahead of Spain, but news of Ballack’s fitness has coloured that prediction. He leads by example and his goals have made the difference for Germany so Qq Poker Online many times, that you wonder if Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger can carry it off without him.
Spain will be boosted by the news. They are already euphoric to have after reaching the final and are brimming with confidence having zapped the Russians’ much-fancied challenge so convincingly in the semi-final.
Luis Aragones’ men are unbeaten in 21 games since November 2006 and the country’s first final for 44 years has enchanted the nation that more than any other are stamped underachievers on the football field.
Yet that over-enthusiasm could be their weakness, and the Germans know it. A florid opening and an early Spanish goal could be just what the Germans, often gentle starters, would relish to push themselves to grab control of the 90.
The German game-plan is as mental as physical: They will try to outmuscle the Spanish at key phases of the game to win the mental battle and disrupt their opponents’ flow. Spain might take the lead but a German equalizer would be a heavier punch. With the psychological flow in their direction, Germany will then hit back with set pieces from Ballack or rapier counter-strikes through Lahm, Podolski and Schweinsteiger.
Spain’s best weapon is to stay confident in their own abilities. Their fantastic passing skills and technique have so far prevailed over all challengers at Euro 2008, but the biggest test is now, a contest which looks too close to call if both teams are fit.
It is hard to remember a team playing such beautiful football making a final, which makes Spain the romantic choice of the heart, yet first the Tiki-Taka game must overcome the most physically imposing and mentally tough eleven of the tournament.
History repeats as Japan draws Australia
If there was a sense of inevitability ahead of the draw for the final round of World Cup qualifying in Asia, neither Japan coach Takeshi Okada, nor Australia coach Pim Verbeek let it show.
Both reacted casually when Japan and Australia were drawn together in Group A, along with Middle-Eastern sides Qatar and Bahrain and potential dark horses Uzbekistan. The two teams met in a classic 2006 FIFA World Cup encounter, in which the Socceroos came from behind to register a thrilling 3-1 group-stage win courtesy of a late Tim Cahill brace and an emphatic John Aloisi strike.
In a statement released by the JFA, Japan coach Okada claimed that “(w)hen you think about the destinations and travel involved, it probably could have been worse.”
He is right.
While Japan and Australia will both feel confident of booking one of the two qualification places available in their group, Group B of qualifying will cause nightmares for fans of Korea Republic, Iran, DPR Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – all of whom have at one time qualified for the finals of the World Cup.
Nevertheless Japan and Australia will no doubt eye each other warily in the build-up to their two clashes, set down for February 2 in Japan and June 17 in Australia.
While most Japanese fans were gracious in defeat following their team’s catastrophic collapse in Kaiserlautern two years ago, scratch the surface of the average Blue Samurai supporter and a sense of injustice still lingers.
Japan were just six minutes away from beating the Socceroos, with Zico’s side wilting under the brutal summer sun at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion.
Both Zico and Guus Hiddink are long gone from their adopted national teams, and an Australian outfit that has often been accused of technical deficiencies can no longer rely solely on their superior fitness levels to get them over the line.
That was made abundantly clear when Japan beat Australia on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the quarter-finals of the 2007 Asian Cup.
Looming large as a potential obstacle for both teams is Uzbekistan; a team studded with European-based players who also turned in an admirable performance at the 2007 Asian Cup.
The Uzbekis will be looking to spring some upsets along the way in a 10-match qualification campaign, with the two third-placed finishers in each group squaring off against each other for the right to face the champions of Oceania in a winner-takes-all playoff.
Both Japan and Australia will feel confident of avoiding that scenario, but with both sides itching for revenge and Australia looking to flex their muscle in their first ever Asian qualification campaign, the fledgling rivalry between the two countries could be set to boil over once again.