Spain and Germany must be the co-presidents of the World Cup’s mutual admiration society.
How else to explain the teams’ final press conference ahead of their semifinal showdown Wednesday at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 1:30 pm ET)?
For close to an hour on Tuesday, managers and players from both sides were positively gushing and lavishing praise on one another, while at the same time maintaining the other was the team to beat.
"I’ve gone on record before as saying that Spain is the best team, with the best attacking power," German coach Joachim Loew said.
"They've been together for a very long time, so they know each other inside out. As far as Spain is concerned, they hardly make any mistakes ever."
Spanish midfielder Andres Iniesta was just as glowing in his assessment of the Germans.
"They have been brilliant at this World Cup so far," said the FC Barcelona star.
And so it went on, with Spain manager Vicente del Bosque and midfielder Xabi Alonso extolling the virtues of the Germans, and Loew throwing more compliments towards the Spaniards.
Loew downplays controversy
Germany coach Joachim Loew insists there is no controversy over the team’s captaincy.
Earlier this week defender Philipp Lahm, who took over the captain’s armband after midfielder Michael Ballack was ruled out of the tournament with an ankle injury, told German newspaper Bild that he wanted to remain as team captain once the World Cup is over.
The timing of Lahm’s statement was somewhat odd, leading to questions of whether or not it will be a distraction for Germany ahead of its game with Spain.
But Loew said everything is fine in the German camp, downplaying any suggestion of there being strife in the team.
"That does not bother us at all," Loew told reporters during a Tuesday press conference.
"[Lahm] has been enjoying the added responsibility of being captain and he has done his job here."
Loew later added: "We have freedom of speech and he is free to speak his mind, but he also knows that it's up to the coach to decide after the World Cup."
About the only moment of tension came when forward Lukas Podolski slightly let his guard down and admitted he is seeking vengeance for Germany’s loss to Spain in the final of Euro 2008.
"We want revenge for that game. When you play in a final you want to win. We still think about that loss, and it still haunts us to this day," said Podolski.
The Germans were out-played and out-muscled in the Vienna final two years ago, as La Roja claimed its first major international title since winning the European Championship on home soil in 1964.
But a lot has changed since the sides clashed in the Austrian capital, including a massive overhaul to Loew’s squad, which has seen him bring in 14 new players from the side that competed at Euro 2008.
"Spain at Euro was the better team but I think that has now changed. We have proved ourselves here and have improved. However, I still think they are the favourites," Loew stated.
Not according to Iniesta.
"I don't think you can say there is a clear favourite," Iniesta said. "What they say about us, we can also say the same thing about them. You can say they are also a great team that has players of a very high quality."
With the exception of a minor hiccup in the first round (a 1-0 loss to Serbia), Germany has been nearly flawless at this tournament.
Buoyed by impressive youngsters Thomas Mueller and Mesut Oezil, midfield general Bastian Schweinsteiger, and veteran forward Miroslav Klose, the Germans have run roughshod in South Africa, outscoring their opponents 13-2 en route to reaching the final four of the World Cup for the 12th time.
But Loew will be without one of his key performers against Spain — Mueller picked up a second yellow card versus Argentina in the last round, earning a one-game suspension.
Loew wouldn’t tip his hand as to who exactly would replace Mueller on the right side of midfield, saying only it would be either Piotr Trochowski, Toni Kroos or Cacau.
Spain poses a tough challenge for the Germans.
La Roja came into the tournament as the No. 2-ranked team in the world, and have such attacking depth that Arsenal star Cesc Fabregas, one of the top midfielders in the Premiership, can’t crack the starting lineup.
Del Bosque can also rely on the in-form David Villa, who is in a tie for first place as the tournament’s top scorer with five goals in South Africa.
Despite Spain’s awesome offensive options, Loew insisted he would not switch his tactical approach.
"We don't have to be defensive against Spain," the German manager stated. "We must succeed in neutralizing them … But we will continue with the attacking style that has brought us success and victories at this World Cup."
As for Del Bosque, the biggest decision he faces is whether to give another start to under-performing forward Fernando Torres.
Torres is one of the most dangerous strikers in the world but he has yet to find the back of the net in South Africa. Del Bosque maintains the Liverpool star hasn’t crumbled under the pressure of competing on soccer’s greatest stage.
"The pressure on Torres doesn’t influence him because he's used to playing at the top level," Del Bosque said.
But will he start against Germany?
"[Wednesday] we will know who will be in the starting 11," the Spanish manager coyly responded when pressed by one reporter.