“This is the most important match in our history,” said Iker Casillas in reference to Spain’s South Africa 2010 semi-final against Germany on Wednesday. Though the Germans are in irresistible form, the European champions know what it takes to beat them, having overcome the same opposition in the final of UEFA EURO 2008.
Two of the men who will have a big part to play in the Durban duel are Spain coach Vicente del Bosque and midfield dynamo Andres Iniesta, both of whom shared their views with FIFA on what promises to be a fascinating game.
The Barcelona wizard was on duty on that famous night in Vienna and remembers the game as if it were yesterday. “Spain were the better side apart from the first ten minutes, when they came out strongly and created a couple of chances. We settled down after that and started to play well, and when we went ahead we took control of the match. All that was lacking was a second goal and when you’re playing Germany in a final you really need to try and kill the game off.”
As far as is his coach is concerned, that Germany side bears little relation to the current one. “Half of the team that played at the European Championships has gone,” said Del Bosque. “This is a side that combines Germany’s traditional values with good football, quality and young talent. If you ask me, Germany, ourselves and the Netherlands sum up perfectly what European football is all about.
“The Germans are always there or thereabouts, and that’s been the case since I was a boy,” continued the former Real Madrid boss, who has the utmost respect for his side’s next rivals. “When you think about Germany you think about a solid, top-quality side with a big reputation and a huge will to win.”
Iniesta concurred with his coach’s appraisal, saying: “Teams like Germany are exciting to watch because they play good football, they make chances and they like to get down the flanks. That’s what we like to do too, which should make for a nice game.”
A central part of Spain’s gameplan, Iniesta has shaken off his recent injury problems, a source of understandable relief for Del Bosque, who said: “Andres is feeling a lot stronger now and he’s getting better with every game. He’s one of our most important players.”
Another of Spain’s key men is David Villa, the scorer of five of their six goals in South Africa. Now his team-mate for both club and country, Iniesta has nothing but praise for the tournament’s top marksman. “He’s in superb form right now. He’s scoring goals for fun and that’s so important for the team. We have a good understanding on the pitch, which is only natural when you train together every day and you know what he’s asking for and how he moves. When you have a striker like David it makes everything very easy for us midfielders.”
Easy is not a word that can be used to describe Spain’s progress so far, with the massed defences assembled by Switzerland, Honduras and Paraguay posing them plenty of problems. Does Iniesta believe space will be easier to come by against the more enterprising Germans? “If they attack more, there will be more space, but they’ll also be creating more chances in front of goal,” came the reply. “I don’t know how the game will pan out because every match is different. We both like to get forward a lot and we like to have possession, but the circumstances surrounding the game will have an influence too.”
Not known for making big predictions, the normally reserved midfielder broke with the habit of a lifetime when asked how he thinks the semi will go. “I’m convinced we’ll make it through to the Final. I’m absolutely confident of that.” If Spain can show that kind of self-belief on the pitch, they might just fulfil Iniesta’s forecast.