‘Toughest day of my life’

2010-07-05 00:00

ARGENTINA’S 4-0 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Germany at Green Point Stadium on Saturday saw another giant crash out of the tournament, and left coach Diego Maradona contemplating his future after what he said was the toughest day of his life.

Argentina, who had been shaping up as potential finalists under their unlikely coaching figure, were out-thought, and outrun by a younger, more dynamic Germany.

The Germans will face Spain in their semi-final in Durban on Wednesday.

The charismatic Maradona, always good for a soundbite, said that not since he retired from football had he felt so saddened. The footballing great’s appointment as coach split Argentina, where Maradona has god-like status but has lived a life chequered by drug abuse and controversy.

“The day I stopped playing football could have been similar. But this sadness is very strong — it is tough,” Maradona said.

“I lived through this in 1982 [when holders Argentina exited in the second round], but I was too young and didn’t realise the importance of things.

“Today I am almost 50 and I am mature — this is the toughest thing in my life.”

Maradona hinted he would not continue as Argentina coach.

“I’m so proud of leading these players … We could not make our dream come true, but Argentinean football has gone back to its roots and I may leave tomorrow, but these boys must go on and show real Argentinean football,” he said.

Argentina playmaker Lionel Messi’s exit follows that of the other two pretenders to the crown of world’s best player. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal lost 1-0 to Spain in the second round, while Kaka’s Brazil were quarter-final losers in their 2-1 defeat against Holland on Friday.

Germany coach Joachim Loew’s policy of introducing young blood and players such as Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira, who could have been eligible for other countries after an ageing side’s final defeat against Spain at Euro 2008, appears to be paying off.

Their defeat of Argentina was the third match in which Germany scored four goals, following their 4-0 first round win against Australia and 4-1 second round victory against England.

Apart from another breathtaking, mobile attacking performance, Germany also defended well.

For a period either side of half time, with the score at 1-0 from Thomas Mueller’s third-minute headed goal, Argentina pushed hard for an equaliser, but were mostly able to create only half-chances as the Germans absorbed the pressure.

The Europeans’ patience paid off when Lucas Podolski pried open the Argentina defence in the 68th minute and squared for Miroslav Klose to finish from close range. A third and a fourth followed in the 74th and 89th minutes – from defender Arne Friedrich and then Klose again with his second goal, scored while earning his 100th cap.

“My team showed great resolve and willingness to win, and in doing so weren’t just of a very high standard, but it was a true championship performance,” Loew said.

“… We were not surprised by how Argentina played because we observed their team very carefully. We knew Messi would fall back into midfield.

“Messi is a key player and a pass-giver for Argentina. So we tried to stay close to him until a second, third or fourth player won the ball back.”

Germany at times managed to carve the Argentina defence apart. Loew identified the South Americans’s work rate and support across the departments as a reason for this.

“On the one hand, Argentina have hugely experienced players in defence like [Martin] Demichelis and [Gabriel] Heinze. But we also saw in their earlier matches that while they are very strong in attack, four or five attacking players don’t really support their defence.

“I told my players they are younger and faster than the Argentineans and if they put the opponents’ defence under pressure, then players like Heinze might struggle because they are perhaps not as fast as they used to be. We were brave enough to go on the attack with five or six players.

“Our offensive play was of the highest possible level.

“We also knew that if we slid into the challenge on Messi, he would simply use that to win free-kicks, so our defensive play was also spot-on.”

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