Since Germany and Argentina appeared so evenly matched on paper before their World Cup quarter-final, it would have taken a brave man or woman to predict either side winning by four clear goals. But Joachim Low’s team have made proving the odds makers wrong something of a habit at this World Cup, never more so than in Saturday’s romp past Diego Maradona’s South Americans.
Germany’s thumping of England was a rampaging victory over a side in patchy form, seemingly rife with infighting between the players and the coaching staff and low on confidence. Conversely, the thrashing of Argentina was of a team in high spirits, united behind a Coach who doubled as a national icon and footballing legend. The swagger Argentina took into the meeting with Die Mannschaft was that of champions, a group of players many of whom are amongst the best in the world ready to prove just that. Having strolled through a group containing Korea Republic, Greece and Nigeria, three teams that could have caused an upset but were overcome by the skills of Lionel Messi and co, Argentina barely broke sweat as they cruised past Mexico too, setting up a clash between two of the most stylish nations seen this summer. It looked like a fair fight, but Germany cut Argentina to ribbons, leaving Maradona’s hopes adding another World Cup to his name in tatters, and leaving the Argentina defence looking as dishevelled and helpless as England’s had been a week ago. Far from being an equal contest between two heavyweights, Germany’s resolution in defence and the brilliance of Bastian Schweinsteiger put them in a different class than La Albiceleste.
Faced with one of the most fearsome front lines in world football, with three members – Messi, Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain – that between them scored 105 goals in all competitions last season (29 each for Tevez and Higuain, 47 for Messi), Germany defended in numbers when necessary and attacked with equal fervour. Watching Germany hold firm against Argentina was in many ways reminiscent of a Premier League tie involving Arsenal, who are often faced with regimented masses blocking their path to goal. Too often teams who employ such a tactic do so at the expense of any attacking threat whatsoever, but the early Thomas Muller goal gave Germany something to defend and only encouraged Argentina further forward – in essence, playing right into Germany’s hands. And while Mesut Ozil had possibly his quietest game of the World Cup so far, the imperious Schweinsteiger was there to pick up the slack. Having dismantled a ponderous Australia, and ripped through an England side in tumult, Germany here proved they were not flat track bullies, capable only of taking advantage of the weak and the lame. Instead, Germany have faced up to one of the most talented and confident sides left in South Africa, and sent them scurrying home tails between their legs.
Spain, having creaked past Paraguay thanks to all manner of penalty shenanigans and David Villa’s predatory instincts, are next on Low’s hit list. Spain are currently somewhere between England and Argentina – clearly not at their best, as was the case with the Three Lions, yet boasting equally as much talent as the vanquished boys in the blue and white stripes but perhaps without the cocksure strut, given their trials and tribulations in the World Cup to date. Which Spain rears its head – the smooth European Champions of 2008 or the disjointed rabble that lost to Switzerland earlier in the tournament – will decide Germany’s future as much as anything they do themselves, but considering the ease with which first England and now Argentina have been dispatched, Germany should not fear Spain even if the Iberians are at their best. The loss of Muller to suspension is a blow but not an irreparable one, and Germany still carry plenty of goal threat about them, particularly as Miroslav Klose chases down Ronaldo’s World Cup goals record. The battle for supremacy in midfield will again be key, and Germany’s defence will be tested like never before by Villa, but having handled Argentina’s potent weapons comfortably, the prospect of the new Barcelona forward and a half-fit Fernando Torres should not cause any greater concern – just as was the case with Argentina, Germany’s defending will be a team effort. Despite the form seen since June, Spain are slight favourites over Germany to reach the final, but as Germany have already shown, the odds are not always right at this World Cup.