E&T World Cup blog: day twenty one, Argentina vs Germany

Goodbye, cruel World Cup, as the last African nation and adopted host country Ghana exited after losing a penalty shoot out to Uruguay. As our resident psychic Laura predicted, Ghana did indeed fight the good fight, but it was Uruguay that prevailed.

Drama of the highest order preceded the shoot out, however, with Ghana awarded a regular penalty in the last second of extra time when the teams were still in open play. It was literally the last kick of the game. Get it right, Ghana are in the semi finals. Get it wrong, advantage Uruguay. Asamoah Gyan got it wrong: he hit the bar.

Oddly enough, it was reminiscent of Ruud van Nistelrooy’s penalty miss for Manchester United against Arsenal in the early part of the 2003/2004 season. It was the very last minute of injury time, the game was tied at 0-0, it was all getting a little bad-tempered on the Old Trafford pitch and Ruud had the opportunity to win the game.

Unfortunately, instead of calming himself, focusing his mind and placing his strike firmly in the corner, Ruud blasted the ball with all his might – the football equivalent of slamming a door in an argument to underline your point as you leave the room – and the ball smacked off the crossbar and in to the crowd behind the goal.

By a cosmic coincidence, United were awarded that penalty when none other than Uruguayan star striker and all-round good egg Diego Forlan – brought on as a substitute a few minutes earlier – was unceremoniously flattened by Martin Keown. That was the season that Arsenal went on to be unbeaten in all league matches. If it hadn’t been for those few inches of crossbar, it could all have been very different. Sound familiar?

Penalty taking didn’t get much better for Ghana in the shoot out, although much respect to Gyan for stepping up to take his team’s first strike and putting the ball exactly where he should have put it five minutes earlier. Ultimately, it was Adiyiah’s weak bobble that opened the door for Sebastien Abreu to chip the ball in to the back of the net and ship Uruguay in to the semi finals.

Funny how you can usually tell from a penalty taker’s run up whether they’re going to miss or not. Anyone that takes one step back from the ball (Adiyiah, we’re looking at you) and then swings an insouciant leg at the ball like a striker from the new Playmobil football set is almost guaranteed to muff it up.

Penalty shoot outs, Playmobil style
Penalty shoot outs, Playmobil style. If they were using the Jabulani ball, this attempt would actually be sailing 20 feet over the bar.

Have professional footballers not realised this themselves yet? All us supporters know. This isn’t the practice ground, son, this is the quarter final of the World Cup! You’re not there to help the goalkeeper with his saving practice. You don’t get another go if it doesn’t turn out right. Take a few proper strides back, compose yourself and lamp that mofo in to the back of the net.

Easy for us to say, of course. It’s an immutable law of perspective in football that when you’re in goal, the penalty taker seems practically nose to nose with you and the goal you’re ludicrously expected to protect seems enormous; when you’re taking the penalty, the goalkeeper seems to have swelled to 10 times his normal size, there’s barely any goal left to aim at and the goalposts have unfathomably retreated several yards.

Anyway, that’s one semi-final sorted: Uruguay vs Holland, after the clog-happy orange ones knocked Brazil out of contention, coming from behind in a storming match to win 2-1. Holland aren’t underdogs in any way, but seriously, I don’t think anyone expected that.

On to today’s quarters. In match one Paraguay will be doing their utmost to repel Spain and surreptitiously edge past them, but from watching Paraguay so far this doesn’t seem likely. A reasonably secure defence, but not prolific goalscorers, so even if Spain only manage the one goal, that will be enough.

Our panel’s focus today is the big one: Argentina vs Germany, the likely champions elect vs the remorseless German Machine (TM). Difficult for an Englishman to choose a favourite from these two old foes (in every sense of the word, regrettably), but Argentina seem the more likely victors. However, once more we refer you to Clarence Seedoorf’s sage observation from the early days of this World Cup: Germany are Germany.

Here are today’s predictions from our panel:

  • Dr Ian McHale, a Senior Lecturer in Statistics at the University of Salford: “I cannot see Germany beating Argentina.”
  • David Williams, head of PR at Ladbrokes: “Argentina should beat Germany with flair and guile running roughshod over the Germans who were totally flattered against a non-existent England.”
  • Chris Day, goalkeeper for Stevenage FC: “Argentina 3-2. Can’t support a team in that one!”
  • Laura Daligan, ‘psychic, artist and pin-up’: “Germany will have their work cut out to beat Argentina, I feel it will be a close game, but I think Argentina will just win.”

Yeah, David, don’t hold back! We look forward to the prospect of trampled Germans later today. Good point about the non-existent England. These are just predictions, of course – what will the reality be? Why not add your comments and predictions below?

Remember: this is just for fun and all predictions are for entertainment only. Any mortgages lost or other sums squandered based on the information supplied are your own responsibility! And yes, I will keep mentioning this every day. Nothing non-existent about that.

Incidentally, if you want to read our magazine feature on the science of football prediction, I can heartily recommend it. If you’re not much of a reader, wear your eyeballs out on the accompanying football predictions video.

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