World Cup 2014 final: Argentina live on a knife-edge but regret not making a kill

Alejandro Sabella's men had their chances but didn't take them

At the Maracana

Diego Simeone may have never graced this stage, but the former Argentina international had a perfect phrase for the approach that took his country this far.

Read more: Gotze scores extra-time winner to crush Messi's dream - match report

They play with a "knife between their teeth". The consequence is that it means every single one of their matches are constantly on a knife-edge. This tense but hugely tenacious occasion was no different. Argentina did not change.

There has been a curiosity, and even a contradiction, to Alejandro Sabella’s team throughout this World Cup. For all their grit, the defence has always looked close to giving way. At the same time, a backline persistently on the edge has compensated by always  displaying an edge.

On the occasions when they were suddenly stretched, which has been often, a surge of energy and application has usually been enough to cover. That doggedness has been crucial to this defiant run to the final. Although the attack as a unit have played beneath themselves, many of the individual defensive players have hugely raised their level.

Video: Germany win fourth World Cup

It is the kind of thing that can be hugely productive over the relatively short span of an international tournament, but is not exactly the best long-term strategy, and always has the potential to be instantly unravelled with a single moment  that cruelly undoes them.

That crux created a very specific tension to the opening exchanges. Prior to the final, Argentina had only conceded three goals in six games, but that in itself was almost misleading. None of those goals had come in the knock-outs; only one had happened in a game that actually mattered in the group stage, and that itself arrived at 84 minutes against Bosnia-Herzegovina when they were already 2-0 up.

As such, Argentina had not yet conceded a goal that had truly tested them. They had not yet been behind in the tournament.

So, given how exquisite Germany can be when cutting teams apart on the break – as Brazil found out all too painfully in that searing 7-1 defeat – the wonder was what would happen to Sabella’s side if they did go behind against a team such as this.

Would they cave in? There were two or three typical early scares, but also characteristically all the tenacious responses.

Twice Germany looked as if they were about to finally get in behind that backline, only for Pablo Zabaleta and – of course – and Javier Mascherano to put their bodies on the line in that ferociously full-blooded manner.

Those efforts still paled next to the power of Martin Demichelis’s tackle on  Thomas Müller. With a loose ball suddenly looking like it would leave the top-scoring German forward free on the right, Demichelis picked up his pace and thundered into the 25-year-old.

It followed on from the way the Manchester City centre-half also picked up his form towards the end of Premier League title run-in, but he was not the only player offering something extra.

Argentina’s attack initially looked like were doing that, too. After a World Cup in which no one other than Messi and, occasionally, Angel di Maria had offered true  creative spark; Ezequiel Lavezzi seemed intent on making up for the absence of the latter. He was motor-powered for much of this time on the pitch until going off, with a blazing first run completely opening up the German half and almost creating a chance. It really should have done, only for the key last touch to be a little off.

Argentina were persistently pouncing into those counter-attacks dangerously, and clearly targeting Benedikt Höewedes with every attack down the right.

Lavezzi utterly embarrassed him once, before Messi did so twice. Those surges should have yielded passes superior to imprecise cut-backs we eventually saw, but Argentina then claimed their best early chance through German error.

The previously unflappable Toni Kroos somehow sent the ball back towards his own goal, but Gonzalo Higuain only went on to somehow miss. That was his moment.

The worrying reality for Argentina was that he never looked like scoring it, never looked like seizing it. He then did not look at the offside line as, although Higuain had the ball in the net minutes later, the flag was up.

Either side of that, Zabaleta again battered away a German attack just when they looked like they were going to force their way through, before  Höewedes forced a header on to the post. Gonzalo Higuain scored but it was ruled out for offside Gonzalo Higuain scored but it was ruled out for offside

The metalwork could almost have served as a tightrope, at once showing Argentina’s bravado, but also how close they constantly were to teetering over.

The tightness of those margins was emphasised again on resumption of the second half, but not in the manner anyone would expected given the player at the centre of it.

On 47 minutes, Higuain excellently set up someone else’s moment, but this time it was Messi that somehow missed.

Turning on the ball in the box, he tried to swerve it beyond Manuel Neuer’s reach only to also swerve it the wrong side of the post.

It would have been a poor miss for any player. For Messi, it was an awful one. In a game as tense as this, and in a World Cup where he had been so magnificently minimalist, they didn’t need him suddenly getting his angles just a fraction off.

Messi did, of course, persevere, and every touch he had carried that air of menace. By that point, the tension had given way to something a touch more open.

Germany were getting more space around the Argentina box, Joachim Löw’s defence was getting that bit looser.

The knife, however, was eventually plunged.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'