â†µThere are just four teams left in the World Cup following Germany's methodically gorgeous evisceration of Argentina and Spain's thrilling 1-0 escape against the suffocating Paraguayans. Dan Levy already broke down who you should be rooting for and why. So which nation is most likely to win the whole thing? â†µâ†µ
â†µTheoretically, Spain should be the favorite. They're ranked second in the world, have a technically proficient and fluid midfield, and have the tournament's leading goal-scorer in David Villa. But they've yet to play as well as they did in winning Euro 2008, and soccer is a sport beholden to form and trend rather than true talent. (Argentina and Brazil fans are nodding sadly.) La Roja also have the toughest road to the trophy, as the only team left that has to face Germany. â†µ
â†µPractically, it's impossible to favor any team over Germany. No side has scored as many goals (13), and the Germans have allowed as few (two) as both Uruguay and Spain, tied for the best mark among semifinalists. (Though that number is aided by Frank Lampard's "goal" not counting.) The young, fast German attack has been the class of this World Cup, fueled by efficient midfield play and lethal finishing thanks to Miroslav Klose, now just one goal shy of Ronaldo's all-time World Cup scoring record. And that midfield has shown its skill in defense as well, neutralizing Lampard and Steven Gerrard of England and disrupting Argentina throughout. Die Mannschaft may not be better on paper than the Spaniards, but on the field, they have been. And I believe the semifinal will take place on a field. â†µâ†µ
â†µThe Netherlands must be the favorite to win its semifinal—rallying to beat Brazil will improve the opinion of your squad—but don't slate them into the final just yet. Though the triumvirate of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, and Robin van Persie should be better than Uruguay's Luis Suarez-less attack in Cape Town, the Oranje haven't recaptured their phenomenal qualifying form, scoring just nine goals and conceding four in five games after scoring 17 and allowing two in eight qualifying matches. (Of course, that group included Iceland and Macedonia, never confused for soccer powers.) Also, both Germany and Spain would be favorites over the Dutch in a final—but Brazil was favored over the Dutch, too. â†µâ†µ
â†µThe longshot, then, is Uruguay. Without Suarez, whose savvy handball helped Uruguay out of the guillotine against Ghana, the scoring responsibility will rest on Diego Forlan's shoulders. And while Forlan is good, one of the keys to La Celeste's success so far has been how well Suarez and Forlan play off of each other as dual strikers. That's not to say Uruguay is hopeless, certainly, because a defense that has conceded goals only to a wonder shot by Ghana's Sulley Muntari and a frenzied attack by South Korea could well shut down the Dutch. But beating two teams from the only continent to have three semifinalists—after beating arguably the best teams from three others—might be too tough a task. â†µâ†µ
â†µIf I had to rank the prospective winners in order of likelihood: Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Uruguay. My gut tells me we'll get a Germany-Netherlands final, too, and that Die Mannschaft will claim its fourth World Cup, and first in 20 years. â†µâ†µ
â†µBut if this World Cup has taught me anything, it's that there's no safe bet beyond expecting gut-churning. â†µâ†µ
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