Less than two months after Germany snatched the World Cup away from Argentina in extra time, the two sides met again in a friendly in Dusseldorf last night with the result somewhat of a surprise. This time it was Argentina who took the plaudits with a stunning 4-2 win that saw Manchester United’s Angel Di Maria take centre stage. The electric winger was on fire in the North Rhine-Westphalia capital, setting up three goals and scoring a sublime fourth as Argentina raced into a four goal lead within the first fifty minutes of the match. Germany did manage to reply twice, first through Chelsea’s Andre Schurrle and then through Bayern’s Mario Gotze, who scored the extra time winner in the final some 52 days prior. But it was too little too late as Argentina dominated the world champions and got the revenge that they were looking for.
Critics will point to the fact that Germany made dramatic changes from the side that took the field in Rio and that statement would be true, with the likes of Muller, Ozil and Hummels consigned to the bench whilst players like Mario Gomez, Marco Reus and Julian Draxler were given a run out. But in truth Argentina were the better side and more importantly the more clinical side. Both teams had 7 shots on target with Argentina converting four of them to Germany’s two. Upfront the returning Mario Gomez, who missed the World Cup due to injury, looked ineffective in comparison to his young predecessor Thomas Muller who was a star at the World Cup. Gomez failed to convert a series of chances and was booed by the German fans as half time approached. He would start the second half but would only play 12 minutes before being hauled off for Gotze to a round of sarcastic applause from the home fans. Support for Gomez and Gotze came in the form of offensive trio Schurrle, Draxler and Reus but they too failed to break down a tough and organized Argentinian back line. In comparison the front three of Argentina – Tottenham’s Erik Lamela, Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and United’s Di Maria were exceptional, often switching positions and causing severe headaches to a new look German back four. The addition of Lamela to the Argentina squad after nearly a year away showcases how far the player has come in such a short space in time. Noted for his brilliance and trickery on the ball, Lamela had fallen out of the national side after his switch to Tottenham had not gone quite to plan. Lamela struggled with form and many believed he was a dud headed for the exit door but the arrival of new Spurs manager and fellow countryman Mauricio Pochettino has seen a revival in the players’ fortunes and this season he has been a constant thorn in the oppositions side. Sergio Aguero on the other hand did make it into the World Cup squad but due to an early injury in training, he was restricted to brief appearances from the bench and was unable to have the impact that many expected he would. Now well on his way back to full fitness, Aguero is showing Argentina and the rest of the world what the missed in Brazil and how good a striker he actually is.
But it was the performance of Di Maria in last night’s game that has everyone talking. The player who missed the World Cup final because of an injury sustained in the semi final was unmarkable and controlled the game completely up until he was substituted in the 86th minute. It was his vision that created the first goal of the game for Aguero, after Di Maria picked up the ball just outside the 18 yard and curled the ball between four German players with the outside of his left foot right into the path of Aguero who tapped the ball home from 6 yards. Twenty minutes later he was at it again, this time setting up Lamela for Argentina’s second goal. Collecting a pass from Zabaleta just behind Matthias Ginter, Di Maria controlled the ball on the byline, looked up and planted a perfect cross onto Lamela’s boot for the Spurs man to volley home. Argentina’s third came in the second half and again the assist was from Di Maria, this time with a beautiful curling free kick that was headed home by defender Federico Fernandez. But the pièce de résistance came three minutes later with Di Maria finally putting himself on the score sheet. The move started at the half way line with Di Maria, Aguero and Zabaleta playing a neat interchange of passes before Manchester City defender Zabaleta played a long ball in behind the German defence for Di Maria to chase. Beating Benedikt Howedes for pace, Di Maria collected the pass, composed himself and at chipped the ball past an oncoming Roman Weidenfeller for Argentina’s fourth.
It was a truly fantastic performance from the former Real Madrid player and highlighted his flexibility and appetite as he covered almost every blade of grass on the pitch. His manager at United, Louis Van Gaal would do well to have noticed that Di Maria was the most effective when he was given a free role and license to roam. With Falcao now in the side and a support cast of Mata, Rooney and Van Persie, Di Maria should flourish given the freedom and opportunity as United attempt to kick start their stuttering season. If he can, United will be a totally different proposition than the one that has failed to spark so far this season.