It was labelled as the final before the finale. In reality, it turned out to be a hard battle of attrition. Argentina and Germany blinked once each in 120 minutes. And in the shootout, the experienced Lehmann kept his nerve to take Germany through.
They sweated it out for two hours, spilling blood and guts on the pitch. It didnít make for beautiful football, few clear chances were created, not many artistic moves were visible. The accent was clearly on safety.
Not an inch of space was yielded by either team. Riquelme, who loves building moves slowly from his own half, was just not given the space to create. But for two intended defence-splitting passes, which were well handled by Metzelder, the Argentine playmaker was rendered ineffective. Pekerman wasnít wrong in taking him off.
If I were to be critical of the Argentine coach, it would be his timing of introducing his third and final substitute. He took victory for granted with 10 minutes left. As it turned out, Klose equalised right then. Had Pekerman waited three-four minutes more, he would have had the option of bringing on someone like Messi for the extra-time push.
I also didnít understand Klinsmannís move to bring on Neuville in place of Klose. I would have benched Podolski, who had a forgettable game.
The Argentines had more of the ball, but when it came to penetrating the last line of German defence, they were found wanting.
Germany, on the other hand, were playing against themselves. The pressure of playing at home, the pressure of sky-high expectations made them laden-footed. None symbolised all this better than Ballack.
The first 20 minutes saw football at a frenetic pace. Argentina, aware that Klinsmannís men have been good at scoring early goals, consciously took the game to Germany in an effort to rock the hosts. The German defence staved off the early threat efficiently and then tested their opponents thrice. Podolskiís left-footed free-kick curled in and rebounded off Abbondanzieriís chest.
Schweinsteiger and Schneider then combined to set up Ballack who produced a fine third-man run but couldnít finish the move. The German captain had left his shooting boots behind. Otherwise, how can you explain Ballack not taking a single shot from 25-30 yards, a quality which has made him so feared around the world'
Ballackís trapping let the team down too. I canít remember more than a solitary decent pass and cross (which produced the equaliser) from his boot. He also failed to trap the ball a number of times.
The tide turned during the shootout when nerves betrayed the Argentines. Ayalaís shot was too weak and Lehmann had no problem stopping it. Cambiassoís left-footer had much more power but Lehmann read correctly and kept it out.
Germany are through to the last four, but after surviving their worst game of the tournament. Klinsmann will have to help his men regroup if the big dream is to be kept alive.