Germany 1-1 Argentina (4-2 on penalties)
Well, I’d be ripping up my betting slip right now, if I’d been stupid enough to bet on my own feelings before the tournament began. However, Argentina had struggled in three out of their four previous matches (regardless of the gushing that came from the commentary galleries of both the BBC and ITV), so whether we should be particularly surprised about this result or not is open to debate.
The first half was pretty even. Ballack continued his marauding presence in the middle third of the pitch (surely there can be no playerthat deserves a goal more in these finals than Robo-Ballack), but a match high on tension and high on technique wasn’t providing the excitement of many clear chances for either team. It was like a chess match – not particularly thrilling to watch, but intriguing nevertheless.
After Argentina took the lead nine minutes into the second half, things opened up a bit. Maxi Rodriguez should have put things beyond any reasonable doubt after sloppy German defensive play allowed him in on goal, but he shot into the side-netting. This was against the general grain of the match though, as the Germans were starting to get on top. Congratulations, at this point, to David Pleat for accusing Abbadonzieri of time-wasting when he went down injured with twenty minutes to play. Three or four minutes later, he was carried off on a stretcher. Germany were rewarded for their sustained attacking play with eleven minutes to go (much as Argentina were punished for trying to do no more than defend a one goal lead for thirty-five minutes) when Klose levelled things up.
Before full-time, both coaches made changes that cancelled each other out in their pecularity. Pekerman rook Riquelme off for Cambiasso, which seemed to demonstrate his intention to play out time and hope for the best in a shoot-out. With Ballack clearly injured, Klinsmann went one better by taking off Miroslaw Klose (now the tournament’s top scorer on five) for Oliver Neuville. Extra time was, as a result, high on tension but low on excitement.
If Pekerman was playing for penalties, he was making a grave mistake. He must have temporarily forgotten that his team was playing Germany, in Germany. In Berlin. In front of 76,000 very partizan supporters. Difficult enough against any opponents, but I’m not sure if the Germans have ever missed a penalty in a penalty shoot-out. Against anyone. +++DEUTSCHE PENALTY BOT+++, as my girlfriend rather succinctly put it. Even the stricken Ballack stepped up and, barely able to take a run-up, sent Franco the wrong way. Two of Argentina’s penalties were appalling. Ayala’s was worse than any of the penalties that even I had to save when I played, whilst Cambiasso put his in a perfect place for Lehmann to dive across and paw the ball clear.
And then… all hell broke loose. As the German substitutes were celebrating, their first team, and some of those people in dark suits that you always see on the pitch at the end of international matches were busy getting involved in a kicking and punching match with the Argentinians. Perhaps the men in suits were translators, converting insults from German into and Spanish and back again. It would certainly explain the viciousness of the punches being thrown. FIFA will probably talk tough about it, and then quietly drop the subject. If they impose heavy sanctions against any Argentinians that kicked and punched, they have to do the same against any Germans that retaliated. With Germany’s semi-final coming up on Tuesday, I can’t see that happening somehow.
Argentina, having flattered to deceive for the second tournament in a row, head home, then. The memory of their brilliant performance against (an albeit very poor) Serbia will live long in the memory – in particular Cambiasso’s brilliant goal, which will long be replayed all over the world as a example of football at it’s purest, most visceral best. It was a taste of how brilliant they can be, but it was, for this tournament, as good as they got. I’m inclined to think that they peaked far, far too soon. The Germans and their brilliant fanatical support, meanwhile, have steam-rollered their way into a semi-final match which they will be expected to win, regardless of the opposition. If they can keep going at this rate, they could get past just about anybody through sheer strength of will. England beware.