Germany were the big winners from Wednesday’s World Cup semi-final between the Netherlands and Argentina.
While the combatants in Sao Paulo tangled themselves in a tense standoff that eventually went to penalties, the winners of Tuesday’s match against Brazil watched calmly, perhaps smugly, from their coastal base near Santa Cruz Cabralia.
Not only did they get to rest while their eventual opponents in Sunday’s final went the distance, but they had also been able to start looking forward to their trip to Rio de Janeiro after barely half an hour the day before.
With four goals in six minutes midway through the first half in Belo Horizonte, Germany’s showdown with the host nation was over almost as soon as it began—an unexpected transpiration that allowed manager Joachim Low to conduct a glorified training session over the remaining two-thirds of the match.
Defender Mats Hummels, who had recently recovered from a virus, was withdrawn at the break, and all-time leading World Cup goalscorer Miroslav Klose also came off before the hour mark. Then Sami Khedira, who was immense in the opening frame, was substituted with 14 minutes remaining.
3 - Argentina and Germany face off for the third time in a World Cup final. Graphic. pic.twitter.com/fRckwhEYrq— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 9, 2014
In other words, Germany’s preparation for the Maracana began early Tuesday evening—fully 26 hours before Maxi Rodriguez converted the decisive penalty for Argentina.
In a knockout stage that has proven as cautious as the group phase was adventurous, that sort of break could be the difference between winning the World Cup and returning home a runner-up.
Germany will not have a better chance of winning a World Cup. By far a better team than Argentina & better subs to make a difference too.— Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) July 9, 2014
But Low will have taken further advantages from the Netherlands-Argentina stalemate.
The 54-year-old had quite clearly prepared his players to absorb Brazil’s quick start at Estadio Mineirao, and while the giveaways that gifted Germany so many of their first-half goals were mistakes on the part of the Selecao defenders and midfielders, they were only turned into gaffes because of a pressing game that had begun deep, pushed further forward and then finally created havoc in the attacking third.
Low claimed the game plan had been clear, as BBC Sport reported: "We had a clear, persistent game plan and if we were courageous and believed in our own strengths, we would win this match. That the result would be so emphatic was not to be expected."
It was a stupendous piece of management, and watching Argentina expend energy while being pushed to the limit will have been a bonus bit of education for Low, if he even needed it.
A look at the World Cup histories for Germany and Argentina pic.twitter.com/tGGkVy8zyd— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 9, 2014
Crucially, the German brain trust will have seen how the Dutch were able to completely neutralise Lionel Messi over an entire match and two periods of extra time. They will have noticed Nigel de Jong’s shadow job on the Barcelona maestro, as well as the extent to which Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano were able to dig out long passes from the opposition defence.
And Low now knows what Argentina boss Alejandro Sabella’s options are. He knows the opponent’s plan B. He knows the substitutions Sabella will introduce in a tight encounter, and he knows the fitness levels of a group of players that played 120 minutes of tense, confrontational football.
Argentina were forced to show their hand against the Netherlands. All Germany have to do now is call the game.