Some games need no introduction, and they fall into two camps. One camp is the poor games that are best left forgotten (which can only be known after the event). The other games are games like this one, where everything that can have been said in advance, has already been said (and, considering England’s history on and off the pitch with both nations, everything that doesn’t need to be said has probably been said by the tabloids). Games where all the previous encounters in the competition have either been classics (1958, 1986 and 2006) or notorious (such as 1966 and 1990).
The game starts with a bang. Miroslav Klose puts in what could be described as a reducer on Javier Mascherano. It’s from behind, nowhere near the ball, and worse than either of the bookings he rightfully received against Serbia, but Ravshan Irmatov (the Uzbek referee now officiating his fourth game of the tournament) keeps his cards in his pockets. Seeing the lenience, Nicolas Otamendi lets Lukas Podolski know that he is there, but this second foul is more costly. Bastian Schweinsteiger floats in a beautiful free kick from the German left hand side, Thomas Muller nips in ahead of Otamendi and heads past Sergio Romero. We’re in the second minute, it’s already full of incident, and the deadlock is already broken. 1-0.
Muller threads a through ball for Sami Khedira, but Romero rushes out and gets there first. No-one has put Argentina under this much pressure, and they cannot handle it. Angel Di Maria commits a deliberate handball in a non-threatening position, and Irmatov again is lenient. Considering the last two World Cup encounters between the two, he may be doing his best to ensure that we end the game with a full compliment of players. Otamendi tries Irmatov’s patience a little too much by jumping two footed, studs first on Arne Freidrich. It sounds much worse than it was, as little or no contact was made (or even intended, it was another “reminder”), but the booking was just as deserved. It’s the first booking of the game on 11 minutes, but it should have been Otamendi’s second. Di Maria provides Argentina’s best chance of the opening exchanges. He surges down the left hand side, and puts in a low cross that Gonzalo Higuain controls as badly as he could. Di Maria is Argentina’s only real threat to that point. Mascherano slides in with another bad challenge on Schweinsteiger, and Irmatov stays consistent. Finally Lionel Messi gets into the game – he turns and slides a ball for Carlos Tevez, but Manuel Neuer is there first. As if prodding a lion with a stick, the Germans push forward again. An Argentine defender falls over, Muller bursts inside the penalty box, and squares for Klose. Klose has the chance to score his thirteenth World Cup goal in his 100th cap, but he blazes over the bar. A real letoff. Messi has his first run of the game in the 28th, he beats Podolski and Jerome Boateng, before hitting the byline, but the cross is as poor as the support is. A Tevez run wins a foul from Podolski, and a free kick 25 yards out, but Messi’s free kick was way over the bar.
Higuain finally sees some action, he turns Freidrich, but the shot is low, and easy for Neuer to save. Messi receives the ball on the egde of the German area, he controls the ball with his arm, but not well enough for Muller to gain possession by also handling the ball. Muller concedes the free kick, and much to his horror gets a booking (when it was much less deliberate than Di Maria’s earlier), which would rul him out of a semi-final. The free kick is almost even costlier. The initial shot rebounds off the wall to Gabriel Heinze, he slots a sweet ball through the German defence. Tevez chooses to slide the ball across the goal for Otamendi, who cannot miss – however, the flag is up, and Tevez, Otamendi and two others were offside from the moment Heinze put the first pass in. It’s end to end stuff, as Podolski’s left foot volley whistles over the bar, and Neuer has to punch away a Mascherano corner, under pressure. Lahm eases past Heinze, and the cross to Muller deflects off Burdisso for a corner, but Podolski was in a much better position.
Half time, and the most positive aspects so far, are the amount of room that Argentina are giving Schweinsteiger and Lahm, and the runs of Di Maria and Higuain, although the latter’s have often been a touch too selfish. Messi and Ozul have both been fairly anonymous, especially the latter. Once the petty fouling of the first twenty minutes had subsided, The only downside of the match is the overreacting to any physical contact.
The second half starts with Argentina pushing forward, and allowing Germany little possession. Di Maria’s 25 yard effort goes just wide, and a Carlos Tevez shots is “saved” by Per Mertesacker’s face at point blank range. A run by Higuain hits the byline, and his low cross is spilled by Manuel Neuer, with Kedira the first to the ball to clear to safety.A Boateng cross is punched to safety by Romero, with Klose pouncing behind him. Klose slightly catches the keeper with his boot, and it’s pretty much the first instance of physical contact where the one on the receiving end hasn’t spent the next ten seconds on the deck. On 67 minutes, we get a second goal. Otamendi commits himself upfield and is robbed by Khedira, who supplies Muller, who sweeps the ball while grounded to Podolski, despite a challenge from behind by Demichelis. Podolski squares to Klose, who creates a space for himself, and miscontrols the ball to the point where he almost walks the ball into the net. He’s now officially a better World Cup goalscorer than Pele. 2-0.
Argentina haven’t given up, and a cross-shot, is spilled by Neuer, whose handling has been the one blot on the German copybook today. Six minutes later though, it’s all over. Schweinsteiger receives the ball on the left hand side, he cuts in, and strolls past Javier Pastore (who had just replaced the equally useless Otamendi) and Higuain, and he slides it across the goal, where Arne Freidrich, Per Mertesacker, Muller and Podolski are all unmarked, and despite the attentions of Heinze, Freidrich scores his first ever German goal. He is ecstatic, and so is Angela Merkel in the crowd. 3-0.
Schweinsteiger hasn’t had enough yet, and he’s still creating opportunities. He’s had the best single performance in a game at the tournament, for my money. I was going to suggest it was the best individual performance, but individual is the wrong word. He’s worked for the team, he’s created for the team, he’s always looked for the right pass, his distribution has been almost perfect, and he’s been as unselfish as you can get. Mascherano finally gets booked for a foul on Klose, and we’re helpfully told he’ll miss the next game, as will Muller, who leaves the field to a standing ovation, to be replaced by Piotr Trochowski, and from here Germany are happy to retain possession and conserve energy for their semi-final on Wednesday. But not only do they retain possession, they extend their lead. An Argentina attack breaks down, and Germany have four on three. Podolski sprays it out wide to Ozil, and the cross in the middle finds Klose in space again, and this time he finishes the way he’s supposed to. It’s his one hundredth cap, and he’s level with Gerd Muller as the Greatest German World Cup goalscorer of all time, and officially one behind Ronaldo – although FIFA include a own goal by Luis Marin of Costa Rica in the Brazilian’s tally (the first goal here). 4-0.
Just one minute of normal time is left, and referee Irmatov only plays one minute of injury time to put Argentina out of their misery. Klose will get all of the headlines, but it was an excellent team performance, capped by Schweinsteiger. Their only concern must be Neuer at the back, but worse goalkeepers have won the World Cup. Messi underperformed across the tournament, his runs were great, but his distribution and shooting were both poor, but he had too far many attack minded players around him, essentially getting in the way. Argentina also couldn’t defend – Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker suggest they have problems at right back, but in Javier Zanetti, they have the best full back in the world, they just have a coach who believes out of position centre halves such as Otamendi, or reserve wingers such as Jonas Gutierrez are better options than Zanetti at right back. Germany were the first side to try and exploit it (every goal, indeed just about every German attack, came down the Argentine right), and it paid off handsomely. Whoever Germany play on Wednesday will be a much tougher prospect.
Thanks once again to Historical Football Kits for the use of the graphics.