Divine intervention won't save Maradona
With hope slipping away, there stood Maradona, as always more shaman than strategist, rolling rosary beads in that infamous hand of God.
Superstitions, after all, were all that was left for Diego and this rudderless Argentina.
But there would be no answering of prayers this time ... no ‘divine intervention.’
The frailties of the Argentines and their tactical brittleness was exposed in the numbers on the scoreboard in Cape Town.
Germany 4, Argentina 0.
It was a scoreline that didn’t lie, just as the scoreline told the true story of the capitulation in Bloemfontein of a ponderous and bloated England to Joachim Loew’s brilliant young things six days before.
Germany is for real; these players believe in themselves and in their mission, that much is written on their faces.
It’s not just that they’re very, very good, it’s the joyousness in them that’s remarkable.
I don’t recall The Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer, laughing and patently having fun while going about the serious business of leading his country at the World Cup.
Neither could I imagine the dour Oliver Kahn winking at the camera during the playing of the German anthem as the 20-year-old Thomas Mueller did on Saturday.
But that’s the culture of the team Loew inherited from that New Age Californian, Juergen Klinsmann, and it’s a culture Loew‘s steadfastly nurtured.
This is the new Germany, reflected not just in the individual creativity and positiveness of the team’s play, but in the cultural diversity of its make-up.
Die Mannschaft, maybe for the first time in a very long time, reflects the nation Germany now is: defender Jerome Boateng’s family is Ghanaian; Sami Khedira, the stylish, tall midfielder is of Tunisian extraction, the elegant Mesut Oezil has Turkish parents whilst the goalscorers, Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, have Polish backgrounds.
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The Germans have flaws, to be sure, but Argentina wasn’t ever going to exploit them.
Not this uninspired Argentina, anyway.
How different this quarterfinal was to their last meeting, four years ago at the same stage in Germany.
Then, the Argentines were the best team at the World Cup and it was a travesty that they fell -- assisted, it has to be said, by the questionable refereeing of Lubos Michel -- to Klinsmann’s hard-working but inferior team.
Saturday, the roles were reversed and this time the right team won.
Maradona, as he did during the chaotic qualifying campaign, threw players onto the field as if it were a Sunday morning pick-up game; as if relying on individual brilliance could win the day against Loew’s Germany as it did against an overawed Mexico.
When a backline is as unstable as Maradona’s -- Gabriel Heinze is 32 and isn’t getting quicker, Martin Dimichelis gets caught out too often and Nicolas Otamendi is playing out of position at right back -- it’s a good idea to give them help.
Argentina needed a second holding midfielder to partner Javier Mascherano but didn’t have one.
Where was Esteban Cambiasso? The 29-year-old was good enough to be a lynchpin in Inter Milan’s Champions League success but there was no place for him in Argentina’s squad for South Africa?
And what of Real Madrid’s Fernando Gago? Or Valencia’s Ever Banega? He’s 22 and helped Argentina win the gold medal in Beijing.
No place for any of them because Maradona scandalously instead took with him the men of many yesterdays ago, Martin Palermo, who will soon be 37, and Juan Sebastian Veron, who is 35.
And against Germany, the coach put his faith in Angel DiMaria, who doesn’t do tackling or chasing back; or, it seems, anything but shoot whenever he gets the ball, which will make for an interesting upcoming season alongside Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid.
DiMaria constantly left Otamendi on his lonesome to deal with German attacks down the flank.
Maxi Rodriguez didn’t have the World Cup he had four years ago but at least tried to help Heinze, though German captain Philipp Lamm still broke free too many times.
At some point I wondered whether Maradona would switch Maxi to the right and DiMaria, a totally left-sided player, to the left flank given that everyone knew both would cut inside as soon as they got the ball.
But that would make too much sense.
Carlitos Tevez worked hard, as he always does, but neither he nor Gonzalo Higuain, who should’ve been replaced with Diego Milito, looked dangerous enough.
Before the World Cup began I was asked whether Messi was as good as Maradona as a player.
In order for that to be true, I replied, Messi needed to single-handedly win this World Cup, just as Maradona did in 1986. An Argentine friend told me back then that “not only is Maradona half our team, but the other half, too.”
Instead, the world’s best player had a miserable time, joining Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and every French player as the flops of South Africa.
His last two touches of this campaign said it all: he was dispossessed by Bastian Schweinstager, then concluded his goal-less World Cup by shooting meekly at the goalkeeper.
The sun, of course, will rise again for Messi and for Argentina.
But in Brazil four years from now, they will need a coach if they are to avoid another day like this one.
Robert Lusetich is a senior writer for FOXSports.com.