Wednesday 22 November 2017

'Kick in face' spells end for Maradona

Maradona: end of the road
Maradona: end of the road

Dion Fanning in Cape Town

This is how easy it was: with seven minutes remaining in Cape Town yesterday, the outstanding Thomas Mueller went down with cramp. Germany did not look to stop playing, instead Arne Friedrich went to treat his team-mate. Germany were briefly playing with nine men and still it didn't matter.

Argentina and Maradona were humiliated by that stage. "This was a kick in the face," Maradona said and his resignation as coach is inevitable.

At the end, he paced slowly onto the field and embraced his players, many of whom were in tears. There was no need for the brawls that erupted when Germany knocked Argentina out at the same stage four years ago. Any Argentina player starting a fight at the end of the game yesterday would have been accused of unnecessary aggravation.

A few Argentinean fans appeared to confront their coach at the end but, in some ways, nothing that happened yesterday could be said to be a shock. If Argentina's progress in this tournament had allowed romantics to believe that a side led by Maradona could win the World Cup, Germany, for all their daring, gave an exercise in brutal reality at the Green Point Stadium.

Germany had been praised for their rebuilding work which has seen their team become youthful in recent years. This might have given the impression that German football has been journeying through some English-style wilderness. By German standards, perhaps they have, but as they have reached a World Cup final and semi-final -- and a European Championship final -- in this time, these are not anybody else's standards. They are in a semi-final now and they are now only at the stage where they can surpass expectations.

On Wednesday they will play Spain, who needed a late goal from David Villa to get past Paraguay in a bizarre game with two penalties saved by both 'keepers in the space of three minutes, the second after Xabi Alonso had been ordered to retake his.

Spain, who will play in their first semi-final, remain the favourites for the competition although with questions being asked about Fernando Torres -- who was substituted again -- Vicente Del Bosque may have to make changes to his side.

Joachim Loew will hope he is explaining how he masterminded another victory on Wednesday but he will be without Mueller, who is harshly suspended. "They're a split team in midfield, with offensive players who don't come back and one defensive player who doesn't create," was how Loew explained yesterday's victory over Argentina.

As with his reasoning for the success against England it was common sense. Argentina tried to win the World Cup without a midfield and with barely a defence. Martin Demichelis said he wouldn't be able to return to Argentina if he defended as badly as John Terry did last week so he must now be wondering where he is going to live.

The taunts of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm before the game had given things an edge. Loew had defended Schweinsteiger's right to free speech but it seemed to be the right to wind up Argentina that was paramount.

It would be a "cut-throat" fixture, Loew said and he was right, but not in the way most imagined as Germany were ruthless. Schweinsteiger may have provided the trash talk but he backed it up with a display of utter authority.

German control left Argentina in despair and in tears, including Lionel Messi, who wept in the dressing room.

Maradona may have been able to win matches on his own in 1986 but Messi can't in 2010. No matter where he went he was crowded out and asked to do things perhaps he wasn't aware he couldn't do.

Germany are now exultant. They move on to Durban for the tantalising clash with Spain for which, on yesterday's performances, they should be favourites.

When he scored Germany's second goal yesterday, Miroslav Klose seemed almost surprised. By the end of the day, he had scored as many goals in World Cups as Gerd Muller and is now just one behind Ronaldo.

But his bewilderment was shared by Argentina, who also had to live with despair. Maradona had gambled that his team could win because they had the outstanding individuals. Germany will always take a bet like that.

Football's outstanding individual, Messi, found that out and Argentina withered. Maradona said it was his saddest day since he stopped playing and, given his near-death experiences, that's something.

His team were also bereft but they all had run out of ideas. Messi was trying to do it all, yet no man can do that. Maradona once came close but last night in Cape Town, he discovered that even he can't do everything.

Sunday Independent

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