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1. A four-ce to be reckoned with..
Wow. What a display from Germany. Not content with securing the biggest win of the first round of matches, or embarrassing England in Bloemfontein, Joachim Lowe’s side sent one of the favourites in Argentina packing in emphatic style. The Germans edged out the South Americans on penalties four years ago, but it was a different story this time round as Bastian Schweinsteiger put in a performance deserving of a candidate for player of the tournament. It was a dominant box-to-box display from a player who had already guided his club to a Champions League final, yet Schweinsteiger has shown no sign of fatigue from his domestic exertions in making us forget about the absence of Michael Ballack. Mesut Ozil may have stolen the headlines earlier in the tournament, but Schweinsteiger put in a performance that highlights his importance to Germany as the man that makes them tick as he controlled the game for them today – both defending and going forward with class. He kept it simple, retaining possession for his side (under very little pressure it has to be said) and breaking up whatever Argentina had to offer in reply, exactly what Germany will need from him in a mouth-watering semi-final clash with Spain. (Click here to see a mini-compilation of Schweinsteiger’s best bits from today).
Above: Schweinsteiger (yellow indicator) going forward for Germany (left), and helping out in defence just 15 seconds later (right).
2. How do you solve a problem like Messi?
Simple – have Bastian Schweinsteiger snapping at his heels for 90 minutes. It was a glorious day in Cape Town as the sun threw itself over the pitch today, but Lionel Messi will be forgiven for not noticing, as the Barcelona playmaker never escaped the imposing shadow of Schweinsteiger. From as early as the first minute, Germany’s talisman was a nuisance to Messi all over the pitch, who had to resort to dropping deep below the halfway line to see possession of the ball. Even then, Schweinsteiger was in constant pursuit, as he was when Messi’s team mates looked to give him the ball, or when Messi made darting runs into the box (right).
Above: Schweinsteiger’s (yellow indicator) attention prevents Messi (light blue indicator) from receiving the ball (left), even when dropping deep to collect it (right).
3. Team Spirit
Germany and Argentina were polar opposites today, with the Europeans defending in numbers and closing down their Argentine counterparts at every opportunity. Thomas Muller and Lucas Podolski became effective wing backs whenever Germany surrendered possession, as seen below. Khedira fell back to partner Schweinsteiger in a defensive midfield role in front of the back four, with Ozil just ahead of them hassling the Argentine defence alongside Klose. In contrast, Diego Maradona’s holy trinity of Messi, Tevez and Higuain were isolated figures up front, rarely getting time on the ball and tracking back very little. As a result, Argentina often found themself out-numbered and out-hustled, with many of their attacks being broke up through interceptions or misplaced passes.
Left: The German back four (light blue) were supported by a midfield partnership of Schweinsteiger and Khedira (yellow), with Muller and Podolski offering support to the wing backs (red). Argentina’s front three found it difficult to create space as a result, with Gonzalo Higuain’s offside goal being the only real time they played through the middle succesfully. Even then, it took a great pass from Heinze to unlock the German defence. Per Mertesacker was dominant at the back, winning almost everything that came into the box, and throwing himself in front of the ball with little regard for his own well-being. Jerome Boateng had his most impressive game of the tournament so far, marshalling the left side of the pitch with supreme confidence – something that will have no doubt pleased Man City fans.
With regard to Argentina’s fullbacks, Nicolas Otamendi and Gabriel Heinze were poor, particularly the former. Otamendi was drawn out of position far too often which left Podolski in acres of space out left for Germany (below). Thomas Muller was afforded the space to drift in centrally by Gabriel Heinze, as he was against England last week and was yet again rewarded with getting his name on the scoresheet. He will be a big loss to Lowe’s side as another yellow card rules him out of the showdown with Spain. Argentina’s defence was abysmal, particularly their handling of set pieces as was evident in Muller’s opening goal. Germany were far too often allowed have a numerical advantage going forward, and their last three goals all came from a wide player being able to centre the ball to an unopposed team-mate.
Above: Otamendi (light blue) has Muller in his sights (left), but is drawn to the ball too easily, leaving Muller in too much space (right).
4. I’m not cocky – I’m confident
Germany look a very assured team who are well aware of what they are capable of. They were happy to let Argentina have the greater share of possession, as they did England last week, safe in the knowledge that they were more than able to cope with what the opposition had to offer. An aggregate victory of 8-1 over those two games goes a long way to justifying this approach, and with Spain – another team who like to control possession of the ball – around the corner, Lowe’s tactics could topple the Spanish bandwagon. The Spaniards struggled to break down the Swiss, but in Germany they face a far tougher task and while bookies might argue different, I fancy Lowe’s team as the favourites.