Monday, July 03, 2006

Hosts Progress.

Germany 1-1 Argentina, 1-1 aet, 4-2 PSO

The first half saw the two sides negate each other, leaving both sides with few decent goalscoring opportunities. Possession changed hands frequently. Some people might have expected fireworks but more often than not when two big teams with big players are playing each other in one of the biggest games of their careers, you find what some people deem a boring match. My phrase of choice however, is, 'a fascinating / intriguing tussle'. The 'cat and mouse' chess game is still very interesting and enjoyable, especially watching the tension from both sides.

Overall the first half saw Argentina string together a better set of passes, probing gently for an opening, impressing in their general play, yet without spine when it came down to where it mattered. Germany didn't appear quite up to the races but they defended in numbers and emerged as the team who could have had been ahead at the half time whistle. Ballack had a header flash wide after a beautifully weighted shot from Schneider. The only other chances of note were Podolski's 25 yard free kick hit straight at the keeper - held at the second attempt, and Mertesacker's drive which steepled over the bar, denying him his second international goal. Tevez was the most impressive for Argentina, his nutmeg almost setting up a Sorin shot, only for Mertesacker's timely intervention.

The second half changed the game within minutes. Ayala scored with a bullet header from a Riquelme free kick. Neither Lehmann, nor Lahm standing on the line, were able to prevent the game's opening goal. The game livened up as the Germans needed to attack more to press for the equaliser, which inevitably in turn led to more openings at their own end. Ballack was unable to take advantage of Abbondanzieri failed to collect a cross, but still chances were at a premium. Maxi Rodriguez had the opportunity to improve his already excellent world cup but instead fired into the side netting.

A couple of key moments did occur in the last 20 minutes or so. Abbondanzieri was injured and had to be replaced by Franco. If there is one position the Argentinian squad lacks depth in it's in goal, Franco coming on for only his fourth cap. And how nervous he looked as he walked on the pitch. The other key was Pekerman's decision to replace Riquelme with Cambiasso and Crespo with Julio Cruz. The rationale was that Cambiasso as a holding midfielder would help Argentina hold onto the lead better than with Riquelme who would find it difficult to quell his attacking instincts. When Cambiasso came on, I said out loud (to myself of course as practically all games I have watched live with only myself for company!) "what the hell? this is a ridiculous decision. What happens if Germany do find an equaliser - how are Argentina going to find a winner in extra-time without Riquelme? And why is Julio Cruz coming on, surely it's time for the introduction of so-called wonder kid Messi. They are both strikers but surely Messi would be the better option?". I thought that there was the potential for Pekerman's negativity to bite him on the bum. And by God it did! It later emerged that Riquelme was tired. I still think a tired Riquelme should have remained on the pitch. I'm sure the Argentinian Press will have been mulling over these very same questions, with far more ferocity than I have. However I haven't been reading the Argentinian Press and so am unable to know the consensus of opinion. Still, the decisions seem a little strange, and their consequences were bad ones, leaving a slightly bitter taste in the mouth for their legion of fans.

Of course had Klose not notched up the all important equalising goal, his substitutions may have been classified as legendary, such is the tiniest dividing line between success and failure in the beautiful game.

With less than 10 minutes remaining Ballack floated in a cross, Borowski expertly flicked it on, and Klose headed in with aplomb. I had wondered only a few minutes earlier though why Borowski had come on for Schweinsteiger. Of course there is the fresh legs argument but that was a big call from Klinsmann. It obviously paid dividends though. Bringing on Odonkor for Schneider was a good sub to make. Odonkor is such a pacy player, with a great 100m sprint time, and he caused a number of problems for Argentina down the right flank.

And then it was extra time.

30 minutes of play that resembled the first 30. Both teams were eager not to make mistakes and were limited to long range efforts on goal.

And so penalties ensued.

Neither side had ever lost a world cup penalty shoot-out. But if any team inspires confidence in a penalty shoot out it is the Germans. They did not disappoint. 4 out of 4 for the Germans with clinical penalties. Even Ballack who had been nursing an injury towards the end of the game showed no signs of ever being likely to miss. Lehmann was the hero as he saved from both Ayala and Cambiasso. Ayala's was particularly weak, unable to score as he had done in 98 in the PSO against England.

The Germans were in delirium, the Argentinians despair. Argentina had probably played a bit better on the night, but how well you play is often irrelevant. Germany showed the better mental toughness in the PSO. Argentina go home after impressing at this world cup but ultimately having very little to show for it.

After the game Argentina were angry, and so some ugly scenes of the two sets of players being involved in some scrapping became obvious. Apparently sub Cufre was sent off in the melee afterwards.

The hosts dreams remain well and truly alive.


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