Germany put a big hurt on Argentina in Cape Town today, but there’s the distinct chance Diego Maradona’s squad isn’t feeling the pain: it never turned up for the match to take the pummelling.
By the third minute, Germany’s 1-0 quarter-final lead had made Argentina’s efforts to stay alive in this World Cup look like an uphill struggle indeed. In fact, it was more like trying to roller blade up Mount Everest. Even before the Germans had put the match definitively—and spectacularly—away with goals in the 68th and 74th minutes, the main question hadn’t been whether Argentina could stunningly turn things around with a miraculous rally, but rather who these guys in the blue and white shirts were—and what had they done with Team Maradona? The final German goal in the 89th minute was really the italic typeface for anyone who hadn’t figured things out already: Germany’s 4-0 route was not only a monumental victory in Mannschaft history, but an equally epic humiliation for an Argentine side that many people had considered destined to win this Cup.
Though enormously out-matched, it might be worth arguing the Argentine squad that got pantsed today wasn’t a bad team–it just didn’t bear any resemblance to the one we’d seen until now. In stark contrast to the Argentina that had never found itself trailing in its string of World Cup victories, this side went down fast (and hard), and never really posed much of an offensive threat. They scarcely got a shot off in the first half, and sent so many passes into German feet (or in touch) you started wondering whether some neophyte Playstation hack hadn’t taken control of them with seriously unskilled hands.
Argentina did look more solid coming back at the half (probably inspired by some pretty bombastic speech by Maradona during the break). Yet ironically, it was precisely just as the Argentines began taking control of things in their end—peppering the German cage with a series of on-target shots—that the Germans went for the jugular. And once they did, well: bada bing.
Whatever defensive pressing talents Argentina demonstrated for long periods of the game they, they were more than matched by the Germans—who also had an offense to pair that with. What’s more, while Argentina allowed Germany to get away with a few defensive benders, the Germans did not return that favor, and mercilessly whacked their rivals when the opportunity arose. That first came in the third minute when Thomas Müller took a free kick from Bastien Schweinsteiger and headed it into Argentina’s cage—past a culpably flailing keeper Sergio Romero. From there, Germany looked prepared to defend its lead and take any chances Argentina offered—which turned out to be few and far for much of the first and second halves. Probably reacting to that—and moved by panic of needing to score if they wanted to hang around for awhile—Argentina finally seemed to wake up a bit mid-way through the second period, and even looked serious about taking things back into hand.
From about the 55th minute until Germany made its decisive counter-attack, Argentina essentially camped out in the German end, where Lionel Messi led his team’s attempts to put something into the opposing cage. That lasted long enough that—despite the fairly weak shots taken as a result—Argentina’s offensive push had the Germans seeming to look tense, if not rattled. How looks can deceive. The Germans closed that parenthesis of relative Argentine domination dramatically by taking the ball back, storming down pitch, and setting up what became three glittering scoring drives.
The first came with Schweinsteiger slaloming through the Argentine penalty area to center to Misoslav Klose, who literally ushered the ball into the goal with his foot. Six minutes later Arne Friedrich went streaking into the penalty area to take a pass for Müller—who delivered it swivelling amid two Argentines while downed on his tuchas—and popped in Germany’s third goal. Klose then made it four in the final minute of play.
When it was, many observers struggled with which battling emotions they should to give into: sheer awe of the German performance, or pity for an Argentine side that went from so good to so vulnerable so fast. Either way, the result winds up the same: Germany moves emphatically on, and looks to be on an upward spiral that could make it a stronger side than ever in its semi-final. If so, two words will probably describe the outcome: bada boom.
(For the sake of good sportsmanship, let’s also take this moment to point out that this match finally featured virtually irreproachable refereeing. Uzbek ref Ravshan Irmatov called a fair and smart match, and his linesmen rose to that same level. Hey, we’ve seen such sucky officiating this Cup that it’s only fair to give credit when it’s due.)