Having romped their way to the semifinals, Germany's national team and its fans are bullish about making it to the final. But Spain will be the young team's biggest test yet.
Loew will have to hope his players raise their game again
On their way to Wednesday's semifinal, Germany have scored 13 goals in five matches. They've blown out the high-profile likes of England and Argentina. In Miroslav Klose and Thomas Mueller, the German squad has two of the tournament's hottest attackers - each has notched four goals.
Holding midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger's steady play has made him a newly-minted world star, and playmaker Mesut Oezil's stock has risen even more precipitously. In the space of just three weeks, he's skyrocketed from a fairly well-known Bundesliga player to a boldface name that causes fans around the world to coo with praise for his quick thinking and skill with the ball.
Oezil's shot against Ghana kept Germany in the tournament - and him in the spotlight
Yes, Germany enter their match with Spain on a higher note than has long been sounded in Berlin, Bamberg or Baden Baden. Germany is used to winning, of course, but not with the present ostentation.
Fans have seen a new kind of Germany, and they want and expect to see more of it. An internet poll this week in the sports magazine kicker - whose readership is not generally swept up in tabloid euphoria - had a full three-quarters tipping Germany for the cup.
Going for it
Unlike four years ago when the country hosted the tournament, the 2010 side will not be feted with a homecoming party if they go out in the semifinals. Back then, hundreds of thousands of Germans packed the Tiergarten park in Berlin to give their third-place team a hearty "well done." Not this time.
"I assume that if we only make it to the third place game," said German team manager Oliver Bierhoff on Tuesday, "that we won't have a big reception."
The team appears on board with the high expectations. Bastian Schweinsteiger, while praising the Spanish team on Saturday as "probably the best in the world," took pains to say he thought Germany could beat them on current form.
Lahm and his teammates reckon they have what it takes
Germany Captain Philipp Lahm said, "We are always prepared to beat every team. We are ready to go to the final."
Coach Joachim Loew too has emphasized preparation. After each of his wins in the knock-out stage, he has proceeded to tell the press how well his game plan worked.
"In both games we were ready, and you saw how the better team won against the better players," said Loew.
Another step up
Loew's squad of relative unknowns on the world stage have now twice prevailed against teams whose players, going into the tournament, would have fetched two or three times the combined transfer fees of those who feature in die Mannschaft. And Loew's canny, pressure-absorbing quick-strike tactics have played a great part in that success.
But Germany, in these rousing wins, have also benefitted from playing against flawed sides.
England were slow in defense, old all over, and driven to distraction by the pressure to win put on them by a delusional public back home.
Argentina may boast the world's best player and a few others within shouting distance of the top 10, but appeared to have had no further tactical plan than "give them the ball."
David Villa and Andres Iniesta are a winning combination for Spain - and soon for Barcelona as well
Spain is another matter. They don't have Lionel Messi or Wayne Rooney - what they do have is a whole string of players who are, in their way, nearly their equal. Xavi and Andres Iniesta are probably the two best pure passers of the ball in the world. The quality of David Villa's finishing in this World Cup has been exquisite - and the quantity (five) has made him the tournament's leading scorer.
It's not for nothing that former German national teamer Christoph Metzelder, who played against most of Spain's team during his time at Real Madrid, told the German football association's website dfb.de that, "Certainly, when it comes to technique on the ball, they are markedly better than us."
But that isn't the point - no team can match Spain's quality. What Germany should consider more dangerous is Spain's teamwork and discipline.
The reigning European champions are a settled side, whose coach, Vicente del Bosque, has made only minor changes in personnel and tactics since taking over in the wake of their successful campaign in Austria and Switzerland in 2008.
Spain's players have vast experience with each other and not just in the national side - five starters play together at Barcelona, another three at Real Madrid. Despite this, the team is still relatively young: just three regulars are on the wrong side of 30.
Same again, only better
Klose caps off a successful German counter-attack
To defeat Spain, Germany will have to play very well. Luckily though, they will not have to adapt much from the game plan that worked so well against Argentina. That is to say they will have to defend deep, with seven or eight men, soak up pressure and wait for an errant ball to come that will allow them to spring a counter-attack down the flank.
That Spain are not known for their wayward passes presents a problem, but not an insurmountable one. If Germany remain patient and dogged in their defending their opportunity will come.
Spain's attack, almost as a matter of faith, is predicated on a short passing game played through the center of the park. If Germany clog this zone, which they almost certainly will, they will come away with some unexpected possession.
Some, but not much. To have a chance to win, Germany need to be as deadly on the break as they were against Argentina and England - and without the suspended Thomas Mueller (an icy-cool finisher), that task has been made more difficult.
Against Spain, Germany will not see much of the ball, and they can forget about controlling the game's tempo.
"That's not at all necessary," said Bierhoff at a press conference on Tuesday. "1-0 is sufficient."
A likely result, should things go Germany's way.
Author: Matt Hermann
Editor: Nancy Isenson