Lahm lauds team ethic after Germany nullify Messi threat
Argentina 0 Germany 4
Philipp Lahm, the 26-year-old captain of Germany, has not just been educated to play both full-back positions impeccably, make crucial tackles and score important goals. Lahm also has the statesman-like air of the big German footballers of the past and like most of them he can speak English too. He even does jokes in his second language.
When it was put to Lahm – not altogether seriously – that at least, at this World Cup finals, England managed one goal against Germany to Argentina's zero he said, with a smile on his face, "You actually scored two goals". That was one in the eye for those who would have it that the German nation has not always benefited from a full and functioning sense of humour.
Lahm first came to the notice of English football with a brilliant performance as a 19-year-old for Stuttgart when they beat Manchester United at home in the Champions League in October 2003. That makes him something of a veteran in a team whose average age is 24. On Saturday they made a mockery of the notion that Diego Maradona and his clenched fists-exhortations could stop a Germany victory that seemed to have been 10 years in the planning.
The march of Germany to the semi-finals of the World Cup has been remarkable. This happy band of young men who counter-attack joyfully and score goals at will is the obverse of England's team of players with expressions like desperate fugitives and a style of football to match. Listening to the Germans speak on Saturday evening, the masterplan sounded painfully simple.
Lahm and his manager Joachim Löw were open about how they had stopped Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi in particular. "We wanted to restrict them [Tevez and Messi] in the middle," Lahm said. "We pushed them to the wings, where we did not mind them being. You saw that in the middle they did not have a big chance against us. They did not have one proper goal-scoring opportunity, so it was a good match for us.
"In both games we were ready and you saw again that the better team wins against the better players. Winning 4-1 against England gave every player a lot of confidence and this victory against Argentina is good for us, especially the young players. We are ready to go to the final. Before the England and Argentina games we watched a video of our goals celebrations and now for the semi-final we will do the same."
If anyone can beat Spain then it is surely this team of fearless young players and their coolly analytical approach to games. They do not seem the types to have hang-ups about what Xavi Hernandez or David Villa might have achieved in the past. In March they were beaten by Argentina in a friendly in Munich which was regarded as a wake-up call to Löw's young side and now within four months they have reversed that result impressively.
Löw is a difficult character to read but like many of the current greats managing in Europe he had a thwarted career as a player followed by an up-and-down record as a club manager. There is a vanity about him – perhaps that craving for recognition – and there was a deliciously awkward moment after the first goal when he snubbed an enthusiastic embrace from his assistant Hans-Dieter Flick. But his stock as a manager is soaring.
Just the brief outline of the career of Löw, in charge of Stuttgart when they lost the 1998 European Cup Winners' Cup final to Chelsea, with its periods of obscurity and misfortune in Turkey and Austria demonstrates that one sacking on a CV does not make a bad manager.
He was uncompromising in his analysis of Argentina, whose defenders Gabriel Heinze and Martin Demichelis he described as "highly experienced" – a clear euphemism for "slow and old".
"They have four or five excellent attackers who perhaps don't support the defence at all times," Löw said. "That creates space in their defence if you attack quickly. I told my young players they were faster than them and, if they keep [Argentina] under pressure, players like Heinze would struggle because they're not as young as they used to be. We did that and took their defence apart completely."
After Thomas Müller had headed in Bastian Schweinsteiger's free-kick in the third minute, Argentina were never settled. They relied upon their deep reserves of individual talent to find a way through while Germany's well-organised system never flinched. Then, in the last 22 minutes of the match, Argentina's defence splintered.
Schweinsteiger had one of those games that make you think he could play for any team in the world. He dribbled past three Argentines to make the third for Arne Friedrich. Lukas Podolski's cross from Müller's pass created the second for Miroslav Klose. Klose's second, and Germany's fourth, was beautifully created between Podolski and Mesut Ozil – and by then Maradona had his hand over his face.
Klose now has 14 goals in World Cup finals, just one short of Brazilian Ronaldo's all-time record. It is testament to Germany, that they have coaxed such performances from a striker of such obvious limitations – and not just in this tournament. But there is so much more to admire too.
Argentina (4-3-3): Romero; Otamendi, Demichelis, Burdisso, Heinze; M Rodriguez, Mascherano, Di Maria; Higuaín, Messi, Tevez. Substitutes used Pastore for Otamendi, 70; Aguero for Di Maria, 76.
Germany (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Lahm, Mertesacker, Friedrich, Boateng; Khedira, Schweinsteiger; Müller, Ozil, Podolski; Klose. Substitutes used Jansen for Boateng, 73; Kroos for Khedira, 78); Trochowski for Müller, 84.
Referee R Irmatov (Uzbekistan).
Man of the match Schweinsteiger.
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