4-0. The result will never be an anecdote and should serve as a catalyst for this Argentina team. It is their second biggest loss in World Cup history and that is not going to be easy to forget.
But why did it have to come to this? To the despair one feels after such a categorical performance by the Germans?
Argentina were outplayed, out-manned and outclassed by the Germans. There were glimmers of hope throughout the game, but Maradona's "team" never really had a chance.
Argentina received a bucket of ice cold water just at the start of the match. A stupid foul led to a free-kick, a cross and a simple header by Thomas Muller, which put the Germans on top with only two minutes on the clock. Argentina never recovered.
After the first goal, Argentina tried to slowly recover and became more aggressive. They seemed to have gotten over their initial scenic panic and shock and began to try to play. However, there was never a real threat to a solid German back four.
There were a couple of shots on goal—one by Angel Di Maria and another by Gonzalo Higuain—that got there more by inertia than by purpose. The shots were weak.
At the start of the second half, Argentina began to inch forward but never really created an option of real danger. They controlled the ball but didn't know what to do with it on the last part of the pitch. Most Argentinean attacks ended with flying balls wide out of the goal or over the post. The German keeper never really felt the fury of the Argentine attack, because it had none.
And then, another foul, another free-kick, another mistake, and another German goal. The game was 2-0, and the last nail was in the coffin. An easy tap-in goal by Miroslav Klose after a Lucas Podolski perfectly timed pass.
After this, Argentina, once again, followed in the footsteps of Brazil. They lost their head. They looked defeated, they could not complete two passes, the ball simply hit their legs as if it was hitting a wall. Their defense was static and in panic.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, eventually, ran and hardly had to dribble his way into the Argentinean area to serve an easy pass to Arne Friederich for the third goal.
The fourth goal simply came out of a lighting fast German counter attack perfectly executed and simply finished by Miroslav Klose with another tap-in. It cemented the German superiority and it crushed the hopes of a whole nation.
But, with the game over and the Argentinian heads hanging low, how did it come to this? How did a team that looked so well in the early rounds, end up defeated and humiliated by the Germans?
It all begins and ends with Maradona, this group of players did not give what they could because of him and his lack of work. This group of players made it this far in spite of Maradona and not because of him.
The first German goal is merely simple proof of what lack of work the Argentine defense had. Thomas Muller was the first one to get to the ball. There were no Argentinean players in front of him, no one attacked the ball. But even before that, there was no cohesive union in the back four. The back four were not aligned, and that allowed Muller to get behind one line and in front of the other, hide and come out in front to send the ball into the back of the net.
It is something you do in practice, you learn that communication, you learn that chemistry to know you are all on the same line. If they were in the same line it would have been easier to defend the cross, hell it might have even been an offside situation. But there was no work there. Argentina were focused on their individual efforts and talent rather than in being a cohesive unit.
Now, there were two main problems in midfield for Argentina.
1) Javier Mascherano never looked so lonely in midfield. He had to fight two or three Germans at some times all by himself. He had no respire, and even like that, he was the best Argentine player on the field. He never said die, and was one of the only players that possesed the testicular strength to be in the latter stages of a World Cup.
2) Lionel Messi was playing out of position. You'd expect your manager to notice that his star player was having to come down to his own half of the pitch to get the ball. You'd expect him to notice that his star player was playing miles away from the opposition's goal and was drowning in a sea of black shirts every time he touched the ball. But Maradona is not a coach, he's an emotional presence but with regards to tactics, he doesn't know much.
There was no one that could get Messi the ball clean. When he tried to do the pass and go, it took ages for any Argentine player to return the ball. And when they finally did, Messi had four or five Germans on him. A manager would have noticed that and made an easy sub to solve both problems.
It was easy, all he had to do was put Veron in and take either Maxi Rodriguez or Higuain out.
Veron can play right next to Mascherano, help out on defense, organize and give a little pause to an attack full of ambitious players that looked impotent trying to find a way to get a goal. They simply kept on running at German defenders without any success. That impetuous nature and almost stubborn way of going about their attacking eliminated options on the Argentine front. They all wanted a shot on goal and didn't lift up their heads to try and find any plausible alternatives. Every one wanted to be a hero, but they simply needed an organizer. Maradona didn't provide them with one.
Those are situations that any manager should be able to handle during the course of the game. But Argentina's problems were deeper than that. Argentina's problems on the field were evidenced by Germany today, but they started with giving Maradona the coaching job two years ago. It is as simple as that.
Maradona's last coaching experience, before assuming his current role, was in 1995 when he coached Racing Club de Avellaneda. He had no success and almost sent Racing into relegation. After that Maradona has been on the spotlight for reasons other than football, such hosting TV shows and getting gastric bypass surgery.
Any respectable official would not dare give their national football team, a team that has all the potential to win a World Cup, to a guy that, albeit his fame, has not coached in over ten years and had no success when he did. It is bizarre to imagine that this marriage of convenience would end up with great benefit for anyone.
Maradona, with all his folk-lore and all the positives that he brought to a team that was emotionally broken, was not the right candidate to lead this group to glory. Maradona gave them a boost of energy, color, passion and patriotism. He is great at enlisting his troops and making them believe in themselves. But his magic stops there.
Maradona was like a general encouraging and empowering his troops to go fight and win a battle for themselves and their country. He is great at that. The problem was that, while Maradona was feeding rhetorical speeches and was focused on the intangibles, he never gave them the right weapons and strategy to go fight a fair battle. He sent a group of men with sticks to fight against a group of men with semi-automatic weapons. He sent them in to be slaughtered for their country, and defeated they will return.
Maradona's mistakes are well documented and start with using 100 players in order to get the last 23. They continued with the exclusion of Zanetti, Cambiasso and others in favor of players like Palermo or Garce.
It's easy to come here and retroactively pontificate, but I firmly believe that with Zanetti at right back, the Argentine defense would have been more secure and solid, simply because Demichelis would not have had to stretch his position and cover the line.
Additionally, it is hard to believe that Cambiasso would not have been of great help to Mascherano in midfield. They played alongside each other at River Plate and were almost impenetrable. Cambiasso is one of the best holding midfielders in the world, and possess great vision as well. Yet Maradona was too stubborn to realize his value.
A National Manager is much more than a coach. He is a selector and sorter of talent, a confidant, and an emotional leader, but he has to ultimately be a coach. And Maradona simply is not. His obsession with Dimaria is another telling issue.
Dimaria had a bad World Cup and never created any real danger. He lost balls easily and simply didn't have the mental strength to handle the world stage. However, if you looked at the bench, there wasn't really anyone that could provide a different alternative. Remember, Lucho Gonzalez was sitting at home watching the World Cup on TV, while others less deserving were warming up the bench.
Maradona is a public figure, and his image was perhaps bigger than his team, and that's a problem. Instead of working hard and putting preparation into every match, Maradona joked around and smoked cigars during practice.
The difference between Germany and Argentina today was four goals, but in reality it is much deeper than that.
The difference is that, while the Germans are students of the game and prepare every game with professionalism and vigor, the Argentines trusted the faith of the best group of players they have ever assembled to mystic and to the inept hands of someone who is famous for being great with his left foot.