Congratulations, Germany, for winning over Argentina and marching into the semi-final against Italy.
Not surprisingly, Poland-born Miroslav Klose once again became hero with his equaliser at the 80th minute of the game. Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann joined the hall of fame by saving two penalty kicks by Esteban Cambiasso and Roberto Ayala, who took the lead by a header at the 49th minute.
However, I must say that as a fan of Germany for 20 years, I'm not at all satisfied, let alone happy, with Germany's performance last night. Their strategy seemed too conservative to secure a victory within 90 minutes, despite the apparent competitive advantage of Argentina in terms of personal football skills. The strikers were almost invisible in the penalty box of Argentina. The midfielders were too close to their heartland when they were pressed so hard by the Argentines. Ironically, the shorter and smaller South Americans managed to take the lead by heading the ball into the German net, despite the fact that the Germans are by large much taller and supposedly more conversed in headers.
Indeed, the Argentines are never easy to play against. Germany does have the bitter memory of losing the World Cup to Argentina led by Diego Maradona in 1986. In any case, little could have indicated the matching strength of both Germany and Argentina better than the 1-1 draw within 90 minutes last night. What I expected, however, was more upbeat and confident football than what the Germans demonstrated at least in the first half. German coach Jurgen Klinsmann, one of the best footballers in history whom I respect most, was honest and sincere when he remarked after the strenuous victory of his team, "We took a while to settle to begin with and couldn't get into the rhythm we had in other matches."
While I'm not at all happy with Germany’s strategy last night, the most dramatic development set in when the Argentine goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri was forced to withdraw moments after a clash with Miroslav Klose. It was both amusing and worrying to see that Leonard Franco, who was called upon to replace Abbondanzieri, was only putting on his shirt and pants in a big hurry in front of the camera. Obviously he was not ready, and so were his coach and team mates. It was therefore no surprise at all to see the Argentines stepped up their attacks in the German field afterwards.
What was even more amusing though was the substitution of Juan Riquelme, who has orchestrated most of the attacks of his team. Apparently the Argentine coach Jose Pekerman was trying to sit back and secure his team's one-goal victory in less than 20 minutes remaining. This was a typical but disgustingly passive strategy adopted by many established teams in this World Cup, regardless of their opponents, but again this did not work out. I simply could not understand why Pekerman could be so convinced that his team would win with a sheer advantage of one goal when his opponent is the almighty Germany. It seemed to me that he had simply forgotten that while the German squad may not be as good as their forefathers, it is still being led by Jurgen Klismann, one of the men who avenged and beat the Argentines in the Italy World Cup in 1990.
If someone should be blamed for Argentina's failure, I would most probably vote for Pekerman. The Argentines did play well - and honestly, much better than the Germans - but their ouster was largely attributable to an irreversible strategic mistake. This is essentially a good lesson for those football hegemonies that are excessively self-confident, if complacent at all. And once again the Germans have demonstrated excellent sportsmanship by devoting their best to the end of the game, despite the high temperatures and physical overdrafts. Even Michael Ballack had a cramp in his leg but still managed to play until the last moment in extra time and scored in the shootout.
Before closing, I would also like to send my regards to Oliver Kahn, the German goalkeeper who has been left on the bench all these days. Undoubtedly he is very upset, and has openly demanded an explanation from Klinsmann. However, it was by all means an emotional touch when he was seen whispering to Jens Lehmann, who has been taking his place in the World Cup tournaments. Whatever he might have said, I took the liberty to believe that he had whispered words of encouragement and even tips of saving penalty kicks to his team mate in such an important match that proved to help bringing his country a step closer to the fourth World Cup championship.
Gruss zu Kahn! Gruss zu Deutschland!