Argentina's insipid defense hands rampant Germany quarterfinal win
Germany is devastating when given the chance to employ its counter-attack ability
Germany has problems against teams that defend deep and deny it space
Argentina didn't help itself by some stunning apathetic defending and minimal effort
We'd seen this one before. Defend badly against Germany and its trident of direct forwards will tear you apart. It ripped through Australia, ripped through England and the only twist in Surprisingly Simple Victory III: the Quarterfinal was that Argentina's fault wasn't to play too high a defensive line but for its defenders to stand around watching Germans run past them. And that Mesut Ozil's role was more limited.
This is a Germany side whose great strength is its organization and efficiency; for all the talk of a new Germany, and perhaps its players now are more technical and less physically imposing, it is still the simple old virtues that carry it through. It doesn't have great dribblers, its wingers are quick and forthright rather than subtle, and its one player of really outstanding quality is Bastian Schweinhgsteiger. It is a team that should be difficult to break down but opponents again and again play into its hands. Give its forwards space to run into, whether by defending high or limply (and Argentina's insipidness was bewildering), and it will take advantage.
Given Germany's ability on the counter, the last thing Argentina needed was to concede an early goal; three minutes in, though, and it was behind, and to a goal that was eminently avoidable, even if it did begin with a superb run and long pass from Schweinsteiger out to Lukas Podolski on the left. Nicolas Otamendi, who looked skittish throughout, committed a clumsy foul, and gave Germany a chance to test the aerial vulnerability many suspected existed at the heart of the Argentinian defence. Sure enough as Schweinsteiger crossed, Muller was ran on unmarked to glance a header at goal. His effort may not even have been going in, but the touch wrong-footed the goalkeeper Sergio Romero and the ball went in off Romero's shin.
Thereafter, Germany was able to sit deep, frustrate Argentina, and wait to pick its opponents off as soon as it overcommitted. It took a long time before that happened, but equally Argentina rarely threatened against a highly impressive defense. Lionel Messi, who despite what certain critics have said, had a perfectly decent World Cup (goals aren't everything), was quiet, negated by a combination of Sami Khedira and the outstanding Schweinsteiger, and it was left to Carlos Tevez to take the attack to Germany. Again and again, though, he found himself running into a line of black shirts -- always a problem when a side relies on dribblers rather than having the option of passing round the opposition. Did Argentina, then, miss Juan Sebastian Veron? Possibly, for Maxi Rodriguez was poor, and Veron's control, his ability to pick a pass, may at least have made fullback Phillip Lahm, another German who had a fine game, think twice about pushing forward as freely as he did.
Still, after Angel Di Maria had switched to the right of midfield just after the half hour, Argentina looked by far the more threatening side. Germany's diligence, the willingness of Schweinsteiger and Khedira to sit just in front of the back four, though, restricted it largely to long-range efforts and when Argentina did get into the penalty area shots too often were hit straight at Manuel Neuer. Argentina actually had more shots than Germany (20 to 18) and more on target (seven to six), and yet Neuer didn't have a difficult save to make -- evidence both of Germany's discipline in ensuring Argentina was forced either to snatch at chances or to attempt shots form unpromising positions, and of Argentinian waywardness. Only when Di Maria, checking onto his left foot nine minutes into the second half, crossed for Gonzalo Higuain, who chested down for Tevez, did Argentina really look like scoring, but Tevez's first time shot smacked into Per Mertesacker's face.
The game was effectively won after 68 minutes, Muller, from a prone position, hooking the ball into the box as the hapless Otamendi and Martin DeMichelis -- who had an awful game, and must surely be regretting those pregame comments about John Terry -- stood watching. Lukas Podolski ran on and squared, and Miroslav Klose had the easiest of jobs to knock the ball in.
Then, like England, Argentina, having gone two behind rapidly went three behind. Maradona, understandably, sacrificed Otamendi, brought on Javier Pastore and went to three at the back. Whether there was any great tactical logic to that, or whether it was simply a case of trying something, anything, different is hard to say. It didn't work, but then it doesn't matter how many players you have at the back if none of them put in a challenge. This time it was Schweinsteiger who was allowed to wander unmolested into the box, past Higuain and Pastore, and square for Arne Friedrich to bundle in the third. Argentinian heads dropped, and Germany added a fourth as Piotr Trochowski crossed for Klose to volley in.
Can Germany be stopped? Of course it can, as Serbia proved. The key thing is not to concede the opening goal, because Germany is ruthless on the counter-attack. How, though, to do that? Well, the odd thing is how many sides have gifted Germany the lead. Podolski's opener against Australia at least was the result of swift inter-passing between Mesut Ozil and Muller, although it was aided by hapless marking. Ozil goal against Ghana was spectacular, but both England and Argentina handed Germany its first goal, England by letting Klose run on to a long goal kick, and Argentina with slack marking.
Ozil can be subdued, as Mascherano showed, but beyond that it just takes proper defending. Azerbaijan and Finland both frustrated Germany in qualifying by getting men behind the ball and closing down space, for this is not an especially skilful Germany side. It is efficient, it does the simple things well, but its eye-catching victories have all been against sides who have almost gone out of their way to make things easy for them.