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.

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Sport
footballLive blog: Follow the action from the Capital One Cup semi-final
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
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
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy