Germany, Spain square up
Durban - Clash of the Titans: What will Germany coach Joachim Loew be planning tactically to counter Spain's passing game? And how can Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque deal with a rampant Germany side bursting with confidence?
Having overcome England and Argentina in resounding fashion, Germany are now one match away from a record eighth appearance in a World Cup final.
Spain, meanwhile, will reach their first if they can deal with Germany in Durban on Wednesday as they seek to add the World Cup title to the European Championships triumph two years ago.
Loew has painful memories of the final in Vienna on June 29, 2008, when Spain defeated his Germany side thanks to a Fernando Torres goal in a more one-sided game than the result suggested.
Six of that Germany team are still in Loew's present side, which has been rejuvenated with youngsters such as Mesut Oezil, Thomas Mueller, Sami Khedira, Jerome Boateng and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
In the absence of Michael Ballack, who is sidelined with injury, Bastian Schweinsteiger has also come in from a wide position to become the pivotal figure in central midfield.
Loew's game plans against England and Argentina worked perfectly, with Germany hitting both sides at speed on the break for impressive 4-1 and 4-0 victories, respectively.
Against England he wanted to draw John Terry out of defense to expose the gaps between midfield and back four, while the plan against Argentina was to squeeze the central areas.
Early leads enabled the Germans to punish both sides with incisive counter-attacks which left their more experienced opponents looking like novices.
Spain, who like to dominate the ball and have players in Andres Iniesta and Xavi capable of controlling the angles and pace of a game, will present a different challenge to 50-year-old Loew.
The Germany coach will also have to replace suspended 20-year-old Thomas Mueller, who scored the opening goal against Argentina for his fourth of the tournament.
Candidates to replace Mueller are Piotr Trochowski, Marko Marin, Toni Kroos or Cacau, if he recovers from a stomach muscle injury.
Miroslav Klose, whose two goals against Argentina take his World Cup overall tally to 14 - one behind Brazil's record holder Ronaldo - said Germany were out to show Spain they were a much better team than the Euro 2008 finalists.
"We will sit down together and analyse the strengths and weaknesses of Spain and find a strategy to counter them," he said.
"They play wonderful football and are certainly better than England or Argentina."
Del Bosque, who inherited the Spain team from Luis Aragones after Euro 2008, also has much the same players. Eight who featured in the 1-0 quarter-final win over Paraguay started in the Vienna final.
The notable absentee from that game two years ago was David Villa whose five goals in South Africa make him the 2010 tournament's leading scorer. Villa, who was leading Euro 2008 scorer with four goals, was sidelined for the final with a thigh injury.
Del Bosque must now decide whether to retain misfiring Liverpool striker Fernando Torres alongside Villa, or leave Barcelona's newly-signed star as a lone forward.
Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas came off the bench for Torres shortly after half-time against Paraguay, a move which enabled Iniesta to play further forward. However, Del Bosque may still recall the trouble Torres caused to Germany's defence at the Euro 2008 final.
"This is not the time to speak of the key to stopping Germany," the coach said a day after the win over Paraguay.
"I think we have to try to keep faithful to our style and maintain this competitive spirit which we have shown in this championship."