CAPE TOWN // Germany surged into the World Cup semi-finals yesterday, after Joachim Loew's young side ruthlessly exposed the tactical failings of a second football superpower in a week. Having smashed four goals past England to reach the last eight, Germany repeated the trick against hapless Argentina to set-up a compelling last-four clash with SPAIN / PARAGUAY. "My team showed great resolve and willingness to win," Loew said. "It was a true champion's performance and we showed a lot of ambition to win this game. The tournament is far from over, but we have a great opportunity to make it to the final."
Despite Loew's attempt at restraint, if Germany keep playing with the irresistible force they did yesterday, Fifa might consider posting the trophy to Berlin and saving the tournament's remaining teams the embarrassment. Germany scored with their first attack of the game at Cape Town. Only three minutes had passed when Bastian Schweinsteiger, masterful throughout, curled in a teasing free-kick which Thomas Muller, capitalising on Nicolas Otamendi's poor marking and Sergio Romero's questionable reactions in goal, glanced home.
The early strike, crucially, allowed Germany to play the same devastating form of high-speed, counter-attacking football which buried England. In contrast, Argentina's menacing spells were limited to countering Germany's forward forays. Unlike the ruthless Europeans, however, the South Americans - the tournament's top scorers before play - were wasteful in front of goal. Argentina were overrun in midfield. Without Juan Sebastien Veron - Diego Maradona, the Argentina coach, left the ageing master on the bench - the Albiceleste lacked a link-up player. Too often, the attacking trio of Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain and Lionel Messi were isolated up the field and Germany punished the besieged defence. Loew's brusque assessment of the game both mirrored and explained his team's authority.
"We observed them fairly carefully and expected their line-up," he said. "We knew Messi would fall back into the midfield so we tried to keep him under control and neutralise that threat. "Their attackers perhaps don't support the defence enough and I told my young players to find those spaces and work hard. We took their defence apart completely." Three second-half goals were testimony to the total superiority of Loew's side. First, Muller, from the ground, flicked the ball into an open channel for the unmarked Podolski to square. Miroslav Klose, earning his 100th cap, made no mistake from a yard out, making it 2-0 in the 68th minute.
Six minutes later, Arne Friedrich scored after a scintillating run, dribble and pass from Schweinsteiger, before another perfect counter one minute from time made it four goals. Podolski and Mesut Ozil broke and Klose's 14th World Cup goal was simple. "To lose like that is very painful," Tevez said. "We played badly and sometimes when you make mistakes you go home. They did what we knew they were capable of doing."
After this performance, SPAIN / PARAGUAY now do too. Preparing for what you know is coming is not the same as being able to stop it, however. "We did extremely well tactically and scored when we had the opportunities," Schweinsteiger said. "Every player put on great displays and we have a great deal of team spirit." The midfielder's glowing report was echoed by Friedrich. "We play with so much happiness and that is good," said the centre-half.
If they keep playing like this, Germany may have even more reasons to smile. firstname.lastname@example.org