x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The downfall of Diego Maradona

His bid to become the third man to win a World Cup as player and coach ends in abject failure, writes Richard Jolly.

Diego Maradona, the Argentina coach, exits the pitch after his side's quarter-final defeat to Germany yesterday. The famed Argentine flair was stifled by the European side in the one-sided match.
Diego Maradona, the Argentina coach, exits the pitch after his side's quarter-final defeat to Germany yesterday. The famed Argentine flair was stifled by the European side in the one-sided match.

When the Maradona melodrama came to its cruel conclusion, it was at the end of 24 hours illuminated by his impressionists and wannabes. There are times when millions wished to be El Diego. After overseeing a historic humbling, the final whistle was not one of those times. A 4-0 win for Germany was a similarly emphatic tactical triumph for Joachim Loew, who stifled Argentine flair and highlighted their defensive weaknesses. A professional coach plotted the downfall of Argentina's one-man hurricane. In the process, the quest to become the third man to become a World Cup winner as both player and manager is over, along with the chance to become the first to achieve the latter feat after stomach-stapling surgery.

The mission ended amid the reminders of past deeds. Maradona has pilfered boldly in his time; on Friday night, he had his famous handball against England usurped by Uruguay's Luis Suarez. It is, however, becoming fashionable to re-enact the events of 1986. There is a famous photo of Maradona in that tournament, alone save for a swarm of Belgians. The Germans seemed intent upon staging a repeat, crowding out Lionel Messi in a policy of surround and subdue.

But then came the beguiling footwork that was Maradona's trademark; not from his heir, but his nemesis. Bastian Schweinsteiger provided a solo run of Maradona-esque class, executed by a man who had marked Messi magnificently, to set up Arne Friedrich for Germany's third goal. That is the beauty of this German side. They can be as stereotypically efficient as their predecessors, but there is a self-belief that enables Schweinsteiger to stroll through the Argentine rearguard. His was an all-embracing display: Messi's jailer, Thomas Muller and Friedrich's supplier and the man who controlled the game from the base of the midfield.

Argentina join the massed ranks of the departed sides who can reflect upon self-inflicted wounds. Full-back may be the least glamorous position on the pitch, but that does not justify Maradona's decision to choose a solitary specialist in his party. Witnessing Nicolas Otamendi's inability to get to grips with the terrific Lukas Podolski, it was impossible to argue that the omitted Javier Zanetti would have been inferior. On the opposite flank, a one-paced Gabriel Heinze was similarly faulty. Neither was afforded much protection, but it was no coincidence Germany's four goals all stemmed from the flanks.

They have a hat-trick of quartets now, striking on four occasions against Australia and England as well. A first half that was a masterpiece of organisation gave way to a second of crisp potency. There was defensive skill, especially from Philipp Lahm and Jerome Boateng (the latter, Maradona could argue, is an occasional left-back, but he was a wonderful one) but scorers command the attention. Arne Friedrich's first goal for his country had a novelty value, coming on his 77th cap. Two other scorers were more predictable. Miroslav Klose's late double extends his extraordinary record at the World Cup. He has overhauled Pele and Just Fontaine and drawn level with a German predator of an earlier generation, Gerd Muller, on 14.

That was not the only echo of Germany's greatest scorer. Any player wearing Die Mannschaft's No 13 shirt with Muller on his back has an arduous burden. Scorer of the opening goal and involved in the next two, Thomas Muller appears undaunted. Few players score their first four goals in international football at a World Cup, but then few footballers have his potential. He is a player of astonishing maturity, one of intelligence and an uncanny ability to read a game.

Whereas Gerd was Der Bomber, the younger Muller is Der Stealth Bomber. He ghosts into positions; indeed, he has ghosted from Bayern Munich's reserves to the latter stages of the Champions League and the World Cup in a superlative year. After Argentina beat Germany in March, Maradona did not even recognise Muller at the post-match press conference. He should now. Unluckily booked, the 20-year-old must sit out the semi-final. So, for other reasons, will Maradona. The Germans have seen him off again.

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