Germany 4-0 Argentina: Germany are getting better and better and better

July 3, 2010

The starting line-ups

Germany put in one of the most impressive performances in recent World Cup history to absolutely thrash Diego Maradona’s Argentina side.

No surprises in terms of line-ups – they were as predicted in the preview, and Argentina remained with their loose 4-4-2 diamond shape.

Right from the first minute Argentina were overrun in the midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger picked up Lionel Messi, giving Sami Khedira license to get forward and support Mesut Oezil. With he picked up by Javier Mascherano, Germany were sweeping forward in numbers and overawing the Argentine central midfield.

It quickly became apparent the Argentina were only ever defending with seven players, against a Germany side that features attacking threats from all over the pitch. This is not rare in modern football, especially with the popularity of the 4-3-3 formation – but in that system, the wingers pin back the full-backs and prevent them from joining the attack.

That didn’t happen with Argentina, as Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain all stayed in central positions when Argentina didn’t have the ball. Not only did this mean Germany were able to get their full-backs  forward with ease, it also meant that out-balls became more difficult when Argentina won back possession.

The main beneficiary of the lack of defensive work from Argentina’s attacking trio was Philip Lahm. He constantly motored down the right flank, taking advantage of Thomas Mueller’s intentions to make central runs in behind the defence. On more than one occasion, he found himself with a huge 20-yard strip of pitch to himself on the right, and was constantly an attacking option when Argentina shut down the first phase of attacks.

Argentina midfield outnumbered

Argentina’s three central midfielders simply had too much work to do. The carrilero closest to the ball when Germany attacked down the flank came out wide, and the other was had to tuck in and form a traditional central midfield ‘two’ alongside Mascherano. But this left Argentina with no-one on the opposite side of the midfield, and the Argentine three were forced to constantly shuffle across the pitch as Germany worked the ball from side to side. Again, Lahm loved this, having 30 yards of space to pick up speed and run at Gabriel Heinze – and there was only one winner there. We should also remember, of course, that neither Angel di Maria nor Maxi Rodriguez are defensive-minded players – both prefer to play on the wing, and whilst both are honest, hard-working players, Argentina needed more than that to break down the constant German attacks.

A knock-on effect of Tevez and Messi doing little defensively (and the midfielders being overrun with runs from Ozil and Khedira) was that there was very little pressure on the ball when Germany had it in deep positions. Schweinsteiger had all the time he liked to pick out a key pass from the centre of midfield, and though his distribution was often slightly wayward – he only completed 52 of 84 passes – part of the reason for this stat is that he was always looking to play the killer ball, because he had enough time and space to attempt ambitious passes rather than simple balls backwards.

Germany defend superbly

Germany were the complete opposite defensively. Their wide players dropped deep to form two banks of four when they didn’t have the ball, with Oezil given a free role. They sat relatively deep and relatively narrow, and whilst Mueller and Lukas Podolski were disciplined, they had relatively little work to do going towards their own goal, because Heinze and Nicolas Otamendi rarely got forward, and were slow when they did.

Hence, it was generally five Argentina players attacking against eight Germans, in two solid lines. They had little width high up the pitch, whilst Tevez and Messi operated too close together. Messi increasingly dropped deeper and deeper to pick up possession, summing up his frustration at a lack of service. Such is the love for knee-jerk reactions and an obsession with using the phrase ‘big game bottler’, Messi will probably be blamed for putting in a poor performance in this game, but he actually did rather well. He weaved in and out of challenges and played some genuinely excellent passes (that weren’t forthcoming from Argentina’s midfielders), but he was simply being forced to play too deep, with Tevez eating up the space he wanted to occupy.

The German midfield pressed well throughout the game, and the two central players dealt with Messi excellently when he moved forward – passing him from zone to zone and largely leaving Tevez to the centre-backs. Khedira and Schweinsteiger always made sure that whichever was not picking up Messi was always in a good position to sweep up ahead of the defence, and this increasingly forced Messi deeper and deeper.

Easy goals

The first goal came early on from a Schweinsteiger free-kick that wasn’t defended properly, and Mueller headed in from close range. Germany dominated the rest of the half, and there was little sign of any tactical changes from Maradona and Bilardo. The one thing they did was to switch di Maria and Rodriguez, but that just gives a chance to use the phrase ‘rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic’ more appropriately than ever. Argentina’s shape was awful, just lacking any cohesion whatsoever, and offered no variation in build-up play.

There’s little point in describing the three second-half goals in detail, because they were all exactly the same. Overload Argentina in their right-back zone, shift a centre-back out of position to open up space in the defence, cross for a player on the edge of the six-yard box to score. Podolski for Klose, Schweinsteiger for Freidrich, Ozil for Klose. It didn’t matter who the German players were, they all had the determination to get into attacking zones, they all had the intelligence to look up and play a simple square ball, they all had the technical quality to play the crosses and finishes to perfection.

Simplicity the key

And in a sense, it was the most beautifully simple display of football you’ll ever see, both in terms of the tactical plan and the performance on the pitch. There was no bold strategic shock from Joachim Loew, there were no 30-yard thunderbolts to remember for years. It was just pass and move, fluidity and good teamwork, and the basic plan to get the ball into wide areas, then play the ball across the box. The similarity of the three second half goals is so strong it borders on the ridiculous – the only surprise is that they all came from the side of the pitch that Lahm wasn’t on.

The final twenty minutes saw Argentina try to fit Messi, Tevez, Higuain, Pastore and Aguero into the same team. There was so little element of ‘tactics’ to it that it barely deserves talking about, it was just ‘throw on your best attackers’. Juan Veron would have been appropriate to play some key passes and let Messi work further up the pitch, but it wouldn’t have altered Germany’s cruise to victory.


A victory in every single part of the pitch for Germany, who showed the value of cohesive attacking play and defensive organisation. 4-0 is simply a score that doesn’t happen in quarter-finals of World Cups – not between two first-rate footballing nations. Usually, a side gets to 2-0 or even 3-0 and closes the game out – often with the next game in mind. Germany, however, didn’t have to worry about that because they barely needed to work hard to score – they did it wit h a minimum of fuss. It may be a new-look, exciting German side, but they retain the professionalism and efficiency of old.

Argentina are out in the way many expected with Maradona as manager. Early on in this tournament he seemed to be proving his doubters wrong by playing a solid team that worked well together, but everything fell apart in dramatic circumstances here today. No organisation in defence, not enough numbers in midfield, no cohesion in attack. This defeat will take a long, long time for Argentina to get over.

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