2010 World Cup tactical analysis: Argentina 0 – 4 Germany (03/7/2010)

A brace from Miroslav Klose ensured that a highly impressive Germany steam-rolled past Diego Maradona’s faltering Argentina, with an excellent 4-0 victory in Saturday’s 2010 World Cup quarter-final tie at the Green Point Stadium.

Tactician Joachim Loew masterminded an outstanding performance from the Germans, that left the opposition with little idea on how to best utilise their attacking talents.

Argentina were one-dimensional, with no ideas

A big problem with Argentina’s unusually below-par performance was their 4-1-2-3 formation, which ended up creating a massive gap in the central areas in midfield and attack.

Because Angel di Maria and Maxi Rodriguez largely stuck to attacking on the flanks, there was not enough Argentine players surrounding captain Javier Mascherano in the middle of the park.

Lionel Messi frustratingly got into deeper positions to help support attacks from these positions, while Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain found themselves isolated for substantial periods.

As Mascherano was outnumbered in central midfield by Germany’s 4-2-1-3 formation, he was unable to break play to one of Argentina’s key attackers and was largely reduced to casually passing the ball with the Argentine defence.

Mascherano may have been better off playing the long-ball game, but dropping di Maria or Rodriguez for the experienced Juan Sebastian Veron would have worked better.

If Veron had played, a 4-2-1-3 formation would have been used; this more balanced formation would have been more suited to their preferred style of using short passes.

The second half saw an improved performance, though.

The Argentine defenders were far more willing to close down the German forwards and to get the ball back.

The attacks were also more central and that helped to introduce Tevez, Messi and Higuain in the game more, which was important as they are far too dangerous for them to be as isolated.

Although di Maria’s runs – as he capitalised on the space left by the German full-backs – created chances, they never seemed likely to really threaten Germany in the first-half.

However, Argentina’s forwards still lacked spontaneity and bite as they failed to lack the initiative when they were attacking.

They were more than happy to ping the ball around, when they could have created a goalscoring opportunity instead.

They looked like a side that was strolling, rather than one that was losing and looking to find a way to get back into the game. They were not forceful enough and had few ideas to boot.

The main problem with this is that it seems like it’s the only way Argentina can play.

Their pattern of play, which often involved numerous attackers in long and elaborate build up plays, worked earlier in the tournament because they were allowed the time and space to overwhelm solid opponents like South Korea, Nigeria and Mexico with their flair and tempo.

Due to the gulf in quality, they were able to take their time and involve their team-mates in set-plays when they wished to do so.

However – against more tactically astute sides like Germany – where the difference in quality is far less noticeable, Argentina struggled.

Germany were so well organised, Argentina no longer had the time and space they previously had.

Therefore, they needed to change in having more urgency and spontaneity.

They failed to do this, though, as their reactions lacked immediacy and a natural predatory instinct.

A perfect example of this was when Higuain’s first-half effort was disallowed for offside and, if Tevez had created a shot instead of passing to Higuain, it may have been a different story.

The Argentine players were unselfish and their sportsmanship has to be applauded, but they lack the cutting edge and ruthlessness to score against the very best sides.

Their football is far too nice for its own good. Argentina have shown that it is possible to be unselfish, while failing to work effectively as a team.

Germany: they work like clockwork and have the impact of dynamite

The Germans, however, got their tactics spot on.

One of the interesting things, that was observed, was how the entire squad moved up and down the pitch like clockwork, depending on where the ball was played.

This meant that they were rarely caught out of position and a team-mate was always nearby for them to link-up effectively.

It was a typically organised performance, which typified Germany’s excellent performances during this tournament.

Germany’s 4-2-1-3 formation sufficiently contained their opponents and – by having two central midfielders in Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira – Argentina had very little space to get past the two dynamic central midfielders.

Germany outnumbered Argentina in these areas and the sheer positional awareness of the Germans was far too much for the Argentines to deal with.

Mascherano, in particular, struggled to make a significant impact on the match.

However, Germany were tactically flexible enough not to restrict themselves regarding their style of play and positions.

The German side all linked up well with each other and they counter-attacked in such a predatory nature. Philipp Lahm , Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil (who had a quiet game by his own high standards) showed some good movement and chemistry – with Lukas Podolski , Miroslav Klose and the impressive Thomas Muller – by tucking into the penalty area via the flanks.

The wings and central attacking areas were flawlessly interlinked, and every player understood the role and position they were assigned. Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Ozil were the instigators, while Muller, Klose and Podolski all exchanged their roles as providers and finishers with such ease.

The understanding between Klose, Podolski and Muller was also evident and – although the partnership and pattern of play is somewhat routine – it is a difficult system to pin down, due to the pace and movement of the three strikers.

The three strikers all know their roles and they all involve each other in attacks that will always spell danger for the opposition.

Every player is a cog in the system and no-one dictates the play, as every player has an equal role in a side that defines team-work.

From this, it is easy to see why Germany scored four goals on Saturday and why Argentina did not.

The attacks from Germany had a purpose and were clinical, while the Argentine attacks were far more individual.

Tevez, Messi and Higuain seemed to introduce each other in their set-ups as it went along, rather than having a concrete plan on how to score goals.

Argentina weren’t prepared enough – in that Tevez, Messi and Higuain failed to have an understanding of how each other played, in order to develop their striking partnership in the most effective way.

What next?

If Diego Maradona does stay as the La Albiceleste coach, he needs to become less tactically naïve.

Judging from Saturday’s game, it looks like that Argentina only has one way of playing a match – and this is far too individual and one-dimensional when faced against world-class opposition.

Their skilful style of play is beautiful to watch, but this only works against sides that do not have defensive capabilities to cope with the likes of Messi and Tevez.

Therefore, against sides like Germany, their play is far too casual and lethargic to ever be a potent danger.

When faced in situations – like the one they faced on Saturday – Argentina need to find a new way of playing, while retaining their attacking instincts.

Although they are poor defensively, their tactical laziness was the main reason why they did not reach the semi-final.

They were complacent in failing to adapt their style of play to exploit Germany’s defensive weaknesses.

This does not mean that Maradona is a bad coach, because he has improved as a manager during the World Cup and he is a work in progress.

He needs to learn from the mistakes that were made on Saturday. Argentina’s exit from the World Cup is not a failure, it’s a setback that can be overcome.

If Maradona and his side learn from this experience, there is no doubt that Argentina can compete with the very best sides in future international ties.

However, Germany were so strong – in all areas – that it is difficult to pinpoint room for improvement.

They do need to be become more disciplined, though, as they lost their concentration a few times during the second-half; their passing was sloppy at various points and Manuel Neuer showed signs of being capable of making a major calamity in future matches.

They’re still conceding far too many fouls, as well, and this has led to the suspension of Muller for the semi-final against Spain (although this should not be considered as a catastrophe, as his likely replacement Cacau has not looked out-of-placed during the this tournament).

Germany could also do far worse than to replace Jerome Boateng with Marcell Jansen .

Seeing that Boateng’s poor positioning in defence (he goes far too near the edge of the penalty area, when he is playing as a left-back) could potentially be a liability to his side, Jansen may be a better option as his attacking instincts made an impression when he replaced Boateng during the second-half.

Although the influential Lahm does create space in the German defence, due to his forward runs, it is far better to do this and create something up-front rather than creating holes in the back-line through poor defensive positioning.

What has happened to Lahm may happen to Jansen, but at least it may lead to a better scoreline.

Other than that, it was a perfect display by Germany from a tactical perspective, who look a very strong bet to win the 2010 World Cup.

Match score and scorers:
Argentina 0 – 4 Germany
Thomas Muller ’3 (Germany)
Miroslav Klose ’67, ’89 (Germany)
Arne Friedrich ’74 (Germany)


Argentina (4-1-2-3): Romero; Demichelis, Burdisso, Heinze, Otamendi (Pastore ’70); Mascherano; Di Maria (Aguero ’76), Maxi; Higuain, Messi, Tevez
Subsitutes that were not used: Pozo, Andujar, Rodriguez, Garce, Samuel, Bolatti, Veron, Gutierrez, Palermo, Milito

Germany: (4-2-1-3): Neuer; Lahm, Friedrich, Mertesacker, Boateng (Jansen ’72); Khedira (Kross ’78), Schweinsteiger; Ozil; Podolski, Klose, Muller (Trochowski ’83)
Subsitutes that were not used: Wiese, Butt, Tasci, Badstuber, Aogo, Marin, Kiessling, Cacau, Gomez

Referee: Ravshan Irmatov
Attendance at the Green Point Stadium: 64,100


2 Responses to “2010 World Cup tactical analysis: Argentina 0 – 4 Germany (03/7/2010)”

  1. July 5, 2010 at 1:43 am

    Just started noticing your posts, which I’ve quite enjoyed.

    One thing I find contentious — and I’m probably mostly alone here — is in the stereotyping of Argentina (and usually most Latin American teams) as overly individualistic and less organized as a team. In this particular match, a couple of Germany’s goals came together through well executed sequences that set up an easy finish — and that indeed is a hallmark of good team play. But if you look at the stats, Argentina surpassed Germany in all key indicators: shots, shots on goal, corner kicks, and ball possession.

    Argentina did everything right except find the back of the net. I think that you hit on the problem to a certain degree when you pointed out Maradona’s failure to strategically sub. Having said that, one can understand his reluctance, given the success of that team thus far and the enormous trust he put in his favored eleven.

    But Argentina played quited well as a team, I thought, and the numbers bear that out. Other than subbing, I wonder what they could have done differently in that Germany game.

    • July 5, 2010 at 7:37 pm

      Hi Steve,

      Firstly, thank you for posting such an insightful comment; it comes very much appreciated. I do agree with you about the stereotyping of South American sides. Uruguay and Paraguay have based successful campaigns on solid team work with a strong defensive and offensive balance. Brazil did the same, until they collapsed in the second half against the Netherlands. Argentina (until the match against Germany) showed some fantastic teamwork, as well. I can see why such a stereotype would annoy some, as this tournament has done a lot to dispel this myth.

      But I did feel that something was different against Germany. Higuain, Maxi and Tevez seemed to be playing more for themselves, for example. I do think that their more individualistic play was due to the formation, which left several players isolated. That huge gap in midfield didn’t allow them to have the time and space to play the short-passing game they play so well.

      If Veron played, then the midfield would’ve been more balanced and let players like di Maria, Tevez and Messi to link up more. It wouldn’t have left the centre of midfield so exposed, as well, as Mascherano was left horribly overworked throughout. This led to them having far too possession in their own half. There’s no doubt the strong team ethic and spirit in the team – I don’t think it’s the players’ fault or that they are naturally individualistic players.

      Germany managed to exploit Argentina’s tactical flaws and – although I can see Maradona’s reluctance to change his system, seeing that it had worked so well in previous matches – it was rather complacent of Maradona to do such a thing. I do think that Germany’s style of play could become routine and predictable though – like Argentina, it may be only time before someone rips them apart.

      I genuinely didn’t think that Argentina were all that bad in the second half, and they may well have gotten back in the match, but they just didn’t press enough. If you concede four, you’re asking for trouble – no matter what the statistics are and no matter how well you play. A shame, as Argentina are the side I have enjoyed watching the most during the World Cup.

      We might not end up agreeing on this issue but I enjoyed reading your comment. You raised some very interesting points. Thank you for commenting and for enjoying the articles.

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