MIGUEL DELANEY: Blade plunged and the dream died

The singing stops, Leo Messi is stifled, and a bad moon rises for Argentina.

The Creedance Clearwater Revival-scored chant that sound tracked this World Cup will no longer be belted out with the same gusto. Argentina now know how it feels.

A team that has offered everything had no more to give, and were found wanting. Messi couldn’t continue to power the attack, Javier Mascherano couldn’t keep plugging the holes.

Alejandro Sabella’s side are a team that play “with a knife between their teeth”, to use Diego Simeone’s terminology, and it also meant that almost every game they have played has been on a knife-edge. That blade was eventually plunged.

Consider the characteristics of each of their games, right up to the final.

Five were won by a single goal, the other was decided by a penalty shoot-out, and none of them ever felt like they were properly settled until the final minutes.

This final followed a similar pattern, and for a long time summed up the constant push-and-pull to Argentina. They were ultimately pulled apart, in what is the second latest World Cup winning goal.

While their defence always looks on the edge, they tend to compensate by adding an edge. There is a defiance and intensity to every single tackle, and an energy that overrules the fact that they have never fully fired at this tournament.

That was the case here from the off, even if there was initially an extra fire to their play. After three minutes, Ezequiel Lavezzi thrillingly tore down the right, signifying how the side would so clearly target Benedikt Hoewedes. It was a vibrancy this World Cup hadn’t seen from any of their attackers beyond Leo Messi and Angel Di Maria. It still, however, lacked that decisive accuracy.

Too often, the final ball was too hard or too loose, and it often meant Argentina immediately had to deal with something all too similar at the other end.

Take the first-half’s real knife-edge moment.

On 20 minutes, Gonzalo Higuain was presented with the chance to open the scoring. The problem was he never looked like he profoundly believed it, and seemed so much more concerned with how close Mats Hummels was to him.

It represented a hesitation that has been at odds with a team defined by their desire and willingness to seize the moment.

It also led to a moment just seconds later that was probably far more dangerous for Argentina than initially appeared. Although Pablo Zabaleta powered the ball away with extreme prejudice, that was in response to the fact that an inch more either side and Thomas Muller would likely have been in.

There were a number of similar incidents at both ends. For Argentina, we persistently saw the necessary full-blooded nature of their challenges, but also the lack of true cohesion in their attack.

Too many forward runs ended a ball just off, too many German attacks required an emphatic response. Martin Demichelis more than provided one when Muller again looked to get in on the right.

Impressively picking up pace, the Manchester City centre-half then soared into challenge. It took the ball, but also took Muller out of the picture.

That push-and-pull persisted right through the match, with the margins getting tighter and tighter.

Shortly before half-time, a Higuain offside call was exchanged for a Hoewedes header against the bar.

Immortality was apparently going to come down to a matter of inches. That was emphasised shortly after half-time, as — of all people — Messi’s accuracy let him down. After Higuain had provided his best touch of the match to set up the best chance, the number 10 sought to swerve it beyond Manuel Neuer’s reach but only swerved it beyond the post.

After that, both teams looked on the edge, and it seemed a question of what was going to tell first.

Germany were ludicrously open on the counter, Argentina’s defence always looked like the levy might eventually break.

It did, and the most disappointing aspect was no-one got close to Mario Gotze as he plundered a brilliant finish.

By then, it was as if all of Argentina’s energy expended in the earlier rounds had an effect, as if they just couldn’t give any more.

As such, something finally gave.


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