Some random observations after the First Knockout Round:
Germany 4-1 England: Despite the lack of veteran star-quality players Germany has made the free-flowing, inventive attack work for them for over six years; this game was no different. Central attacking midfielder Mesut Oezil has been the creative focal point for the Germans all tournament long and is a star in the making, with his ability to make something happen from all over the pitch, not just the center. As a result Germany was getting forward effectively on the flanks (they always do). Despite having Jermaine Defoe and James Milner on the right side, England was not making effective use of the wings in attack, where they instead chose to try to get forward with Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who were getting cut off by he German midfield.
Of course the one star quality veteran Germany has, goal poacher Miroslav Klose, gets on the end of a Route One pass straight down the middle from his own goalkeeper to get behind John Terry and Matthew Upson and one-time it past David James. Germany continued to open things up, making good use of angles and runs against the England offside trap to get into the box and get quality shots on goal (James came up huge on several occasions). Case in point: Germany’s second goal, when Lukas Podolski was the direct beneficiary of sublime one-touch passing through angles and space to finish a Thomas Mueller pass from the right. Of course what was England’s response? Long shots from deep outside the penalty area because they couldn’t effectively get their attack in the penalty area or get service to the front men (specifically Wayne Rooney, who just couldn’t get on the end of any service and finish off any shots all tournament long). Upson gets on the end of a late lovely ball by Gerrard on a corner to head one home. England surely got screwed one minute later (the replay proved it) when an obvious Frank Lampard long range deft lob made it over the German keeper, bounced off the cross bar and was clearly two feet over the line, but the referee denied them the tying goal. Nonetheless, England got motivated, stopped playing slow and ponderous football, and began to play with confidence, and the match became a war of attrition. You just kind of knew that with England sending numbers forward trying to score that it would leave the back vulnerable to a German counterattack. In the 66th minute Germany countered after an England set piece that Mueller finished (with Oezel at the critical center of it of course). After that Germany just picked England apart. At the end of the day, no matter how little we think of their talent, Germany just knows how to get results on football’s biggest stage. Apparently Fabio Capello has reached his glass ceiling; if he was as good as we thought he was supposed to be, then why did Sven Goran Eriksson – whom nobody liked – take them at least to the quarterfinals twice?
Argentina 3-1 Mexico: Two teams that use a 4-3-3 formation, with three front players (although Mexico’s attack was a little more direct). So Argentina was going to have to expend resources they normally would have used going forward to have to account for the Mexican attack. A couple of long-range shots from Mexico almost found the goalkeeper asleep. Argentina’s patient buildup finally leads to a goal when magical talisman Lionel Messi gets through the Mexican defense in the center and gets the ball on the head of Carlos Tevez in an obvious offside position by at least 5 yards.
After that Mexico began to lose their composure and unravel– and mostly their shape in the back as Gonzalo Higuain took advantage of a mistake by Ricardo Osorio to finish off Argentina’s second goal in the 31st minute. Mexico mostly created their own problems by giving away the ball in the back. For all the attention given to Messi it creates space and scoring opportunities for Tevez and Higuain – who take clear advantage of it — so it isn’t as if Messi is having a bad tournament even though he hasn’t scored up to this point. Still, you feel it coming. All the problems of qualifying for Argentina are clearly gone; they are playing a very complete and united game of football. With all the lack of concentration and organization by Mexico it became clinical for Argentina, with Tevez scoring on a lethal lazar shot from in front of the penalty area. A more frenetic pace in attack by Mexico results in Javier Hernandez getting through the defender in the center on a beautiful first touch to twirl around and rifle a shot past the Argentine keeper to finally get Mexico on the board. But it was too little too late. Dominating and complete performance by the Albiceleste, who will have an entertaining match with Germany in the quarterfinals. As usual, Mexico reaches that glass ceiling and crashes out in the Round of 16.