The game was billed as a match-up of Argentina's offensive superstars versus Germany's scrappy collection of well-organized youngsters. And so it was, but few had predicted what a mismatch that would be.
Argentina dug the ball out of their own net time and again
On Saturday afternoon, Germany delighted its fans - and struck a blow for fans of teamwork everywhere - by leveling an Argentina side long on reputation and individual skill but short on ideas.
From start to finish, Germany's tactical discipline was miles ahead of Argentina, and their combination play created far more goal-scoring chances. The 4-0 finish was surprising, but richly deserved too.
Argentina's vaunted danger men - Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, and Gonzalo Higuain - never got into gear, seeming to have no answer to Germany's dogged defending, and wary of making a mistake that could touch off a German counter.
"Our defensive effort was unbelievable," said Germany coach Joachim Loew after the match. "Messi, and also Higuain and Tevez were taken out of the game, and we hardly even fouled them. We tackled at a very high level - exactly what I like to see."
To be fair, Argentina were put on the back foot early, giving up a soft goal in the third minute. In a sense, this seemed fated.
A Schweinsteiger cross, a Mueller goal, a whole different ballgame
The South Americans' defensive frailties had shown up in prior games in this tournament, as when Martin DeMichelis errors gifted goals to South Korea and Mexico, but in those cases Argentina had been cruising to victory and thus went unpunished for their sloppy play.
This time was different. Nicolas Otamendi's lackadaisical marking allowed Thomas Mueller to break the ice in a game - a costly error, as it turned out.
Argentina did take more possession as the first half went on, but never did much with it, probing around the edge of the penalty area to no avail. Germany's passing on its frequent counter-attacks, meanwhile, was crisp, purposeful, and foreshadowed the goals that would later flood in.
With the likes of Messi and Tevez making little headway through the middle and Higuain starved of service, Argentina turned to the flanks. Many of their offensive moves in the latter stages of the first half were played through Angel di Maria, who took advantage of the space he found out on the wings.
His crosses, however, were not good enough to break the German defense - and the times his play did test German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer were when he shot from distance.
Argentina's second half started brightly, with the team's build-up play becoming more energetic and direct, but Germany, in its short bursts of possession, still appeared more dangerous.
So while it was against the run of play in possession terms, Germany's second, pivotal goal in the 68th minute did not come as a surprise. In a move reminiscent of so many we have seen from Germany over the past few weeks, they got forward in numbers and put the ball exactly where it needed to be when it counted.
Germany's second goal settled the contest - Argentina never looked like scoring again
Germany are so locked-in at the moment, even Thomas Mueller's slipping to the ground in the midst of the attack that led to the goal was not enough to slow it down. The ball he fed to Lukas Podolski was all the more sweet in that he delivered it sitting down.
From then on, Argentina were broken. Their defense put in nary a challenge to Schweinsteiger as he made his run toward goal on Germany's third in the 74th minute, allowing him to lay off to Arne Friedrich for a tap-in. And the fourth, a coast-to coast bum-rush involving just four easy passes, showed there was just one team still on the pitch in the game's penultimate minute.
Maradona admitted his side had been well beaten
Argentina coach Diego Maradona looked shell-shocked after the game. All the freedom he'd given his stars to create, all the praise he'd lavished on them had come to naught against a team with a plan, and the men to execute it.
"We studied Germany well and defined exactly who was playing where but from the first cross they got a goal and suddenly it was a different match," said Maradona.
"They had more ideas and better control of the ball. They took advantage of the opportunities they had."
Author: Matt Hermann (sid/AFP)
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar