Soccer: Best strikers in tournament face off in semifinal battle

JOHANNESBURG - The World Cup's two most impressive strikers - David Villa and Miroslav Klose - will go head-to-head when European champion Spain meets three-time winner Germany in the semifinals tomorrow.

Villa leads the scoring chart with five goals in five games for Spain, while Klose has hit the target four times for Germany and needs only one more goal to pull even with former Brazil forward Ronaldo as the top World Cup scorer of all time with 15 goals.

"It's difficult to compare them but both have shown great finishing qualities," Germany's coach, Joachim Loew, said.

Villa's strike partner Fernando Torres has been out of touch and may be left out of Spain's team, while Thomas Mueller is suspended for Germany, meaning the scoring onus will fall more heavily upon Villa and Klose.

Villa missed the 2008 European Championship final against Germany through injury but still led that tournament with four goals. The 28-year-old forward is one goal away from matching Raul Gonzalez's Spain record of 44 and is looking to cement his place as his country's greatest striker.

"He's left-footed, right-footed, technically gifted. He's almost as complete a player as Lionel Messi," Klose said, comparing Villa to the Argentina standout.

"He's a player that you have to combat against with a whole team, not just one defender."

Whereas Villa has scored all but one of Spain's six goals at this tournament, Klose's four strikes represent less than a third of Germany's impressive 13-goal output.

Germany beat Australia 4-0 in their opening match, and routed England 4-1 and Argentina 4-0 in their past two matches.

"It's probably the most complete team in the World Cup. A team that has changed since the 2008 final, with young and fresh faces," backup Spain goalkeeper Pepe Reina said. "It's the most dangerous rival at the moment."

Besides the intriguing individual matchups, the match at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban should feature a sharp contrast in styles - Spain's precision passing and high-possession game versus Germany's full-pitch attacking style and crosses into the box.

"We try for combinations and they play down the field more," Reina said. "They've always scored except for against Serbia, and we have to make sure not to let them get ahead."

Spain beat Germany 1-0 in the Euro 2008 final with a first-half strike from Torres, and the Spanish have again shown their ability at winning tight games here - taking their past three matches by one goal each.

"We have different players now, while Spain is almost the same," Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger said, referring to new standouts like Mueller - who has also scored four goals - playmaker Mesut Oezil and defensive midfielder Sami Khedira.

Besides Mueller, Germany could also be without Khedira and central defender Arne Friedrich. Khedira is nursing a left hamstring injury and Friedrich has a right-foot problem.

Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas appears ready to play despite shoulder pain.

Germany are aiming to reach a record eighth final, while Spain are looking to get to their first. The winner will play either two-time champion Uruguay or the Netherlands in the final at Soccer City on Monday.

"There are no favourites," Villa said. "A favourite is the one who ends the game as the winner. ... [Germany] is probably the team in the best form at this World Cup but it's a game of 90 minutes between two great teams and anything can happen."

- AP

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