Germany dumped another of world football’s supposed superpowers out of the World Cup with a comprehensive drubbing of Diego Maradona’s Argentina.
Argentina came into the match seeking revenge on Germany for the 2006 World Cup quarter final which the Germans won on penalties, but left it thoroughly humiliated, prompting a disconsolate Maradona to admit he did not know if he could carry on as coach.
This was yet another thrilling counter-attacking display with coach Joachim Löw once again showing a degree of tactical acumen that few credited him with coming into the tournament. After plotting last week’s destruction of England by drawing John Terry out of defence, this time Löw had his team concentrate on pressing high on Argentina’s makeshift right-back, Nicolás Otamendi. It was the source of three of Germany’s four goals and Maradona doubtless now regrets not bringing a recognised right-back to the tournament.
Germany came flying out of the blocks, Argentina chasing shadows, and were ahead within three minutes. Bastian Schweinsteiger floated a free kick to the near post and Thomas Müller, the Bayern Munich defender who came into the tournament with one cap and now has four goals in six games, got across his man and nodded into the net, Romero getting a hand to the ball but unable to keep it out.
Once again Bastian Schweinsteiger was Germany’s key man, the Munich midfielder looking a completely different player since switching to the holding role halfway through last season. His dynamism enabled Sami Khedira, normally a defensive midfielder but with a turn of pace that suggests otherwise, to get forward and support attacks.
Ten minutes had passed before Argentina had a decent spell of possession but it came to nothing. Schweinsteiger was keeping a close watch on Messi and Argentina’s attack was just too narrow – Tevez, Higuain and Messi were getting in each other’s way up front and not tracking back. The diamond midfield, bereft of width, invited Philipp Lahm in particular to bomb forward with little fear of reprisal until he reached Gabriel Heinze whose best years are well behind him.
Germany nearly made it two after 25 minutes but Klose somehow fired over from Müller’s low cutback. But the game slowed down as the first half progressed, Germany happy to sit back and consolidate their lead, letting Argentina try to pick their way through them, with little success.
Argentina did put the ball in the net, Tevez squaring a ball to four players in offside positions, but the teams left the pitch at half time separated by a single goal. Maradona clearly had words at half time as Argentina were much improved after the restart. Maxi had a shot well blocked, an Angel Di Maria drive fizzed just wide.
Argentina turned the screw. Maxi chested down to Tevez and Per Mertesacker took the resulting volley full in the face. Manuel Neuer, the young goalkeeper who looked so nervous at times against England, spilled a Heinze shot at the near post and was lucky the ball fell at a defender’s feet. Philipp Lahm was called into action, his last-ditch intervention taking the ball off Gonzalo Higuain’s toe as the Real Madrid striker wound up a shot.
However Germany had shown in their second round match against England that they are most dangerous on the counter attack, and the longer Argentina failed to find an equaliser the more inevitable it seemed that Germany would get a second on the break. So it proved after 68 minutes, Podolski clean through down the left, squaring for Klose to tap home from four yards.
Still Argentina pressed but Germany were calm in possession, one long passing move drawing Olés from the crowd. Six minutes after the second Arne Friedrich made it three, scoring his first goal for his country, though he owes a debt of thanks to Schweinsteiger for the mazy run that took him past three players to the byline, cutting back to the Hertha Berlin defender to tap home at the near post.
Argentina refused to give up but Carlos Tevez rather summed up his side’s afternoon with a 25 yard drive that sailed hopelessly high and wide. Javier Mascherano got the reward his performance deserved, somehow managing to escape a booking until 80 minutes of agricultural fouling had passed.
The fourth came in the 89th minute, another break down the left and cut back to Klose in the middle, but this time Özil sweetly dinked the ball over the last defender, Klose volleying back across the keeper for his second of the game and 14th World Cup goal of his career.
The only bad news for Germany was Müller picking up a second yellow card of the tournament, meaning he will miss the semi final against Spain. He pulled up shortly before full time, feeling his hamstring, and was replaced by Peter Trochowski.
But this is small beer in the scheme of things; Löw’s side scored four goals for the third time in this World Cup, and it is to his credit that a side written off by pretty much everyone after Michael Ballack’s injury now surely go into the semi-final as favourites. Maradona was given a thorough tactical schooling by a man who, while not fit to lace the great Argentine’s boots as a player, appears to be the best, brightest coach of this World Cup.