Scramble in Africa: Story of a German Triumph
By merely borrowing the term “The Greatest Game”, I believe I am committing an error of judgement. There aren’t any preconceived parameters to analyse a game, apart from its statistics, but it would only issue a quantitative analysis of the subject matter sans its quality. For me, the analysis always depends upon quality of the match. If I had been asked what the happiest moment was in my sporting life, I would have no hesitation to say that it was the moment our school team marched into the final after a gruelling penalty shootout. Considering a crude statistic, we underperformed but held out bravely against our superior opponents, resolute in our stance and strong in minds. It was the first major victory we had tasted and we never had won a major trophy again. This sporting miracle, as I would like to call it, was in 2015 when we were in the heydays of our impending 12th board examinations. Many of us were under immense pressure, not only to perform well in the ground, but also to perform well in the academics. Fortunately, playing football had naturally vented us of that pressure such that we were able to perform our duties with remarkable commendations; and now, if being asked what the greatest game I ever saw was, I use the device mentioned earlier like the camaraderie, esprit de corps and the sheer thrill of blood pumping through the veins to retrospectively analyse the games which I had watched when the complexities of strategy, position etc. were quite oblivious to me. Therefore, by putting together these seemingly indolent metrics, I would like to say that the greatest game I ever saw was the Quarter-Final match between Germany and Argentina in the 2010 FIFA World Cup held in South Africa.
There was nothing special about this routinely common knock-out match even if the nations clashing were the best in the world. However, it was a clash of identities within the classroom. When the 2010 World Cup commenced, half of the class pledged their support to the Latin American footballing powerhouses; Argentina and Brazil, with each faction, more militant than the other, asserting the superiority of the nations they are supporting. The rest of the class sided with the Europeans wherein many of them professed their love and support to Portugal, England and Italy. This was totally understandable; Portugal had Ronaldo, the Italians were the defending champions and England- well, “England”, as the supporters couldn’t muster up convincing arguments as to why they are supporting them. Curiously; Germany, Netherlands and Spain between themselves had just 6 supporters, with Germany claiming the majority with 3. I was one of the Germans, who was at the receiving end of hate speech in my class whilst the rest of my fellow “Nationals” were distributed amongst other divisions. It was a solitary existence for quite some time because when the rest of my classmates were engaged in heated debates amongst themselves as to who performed the worst in the last match I couldn’t talk with my fellow supporters. A more permeable example of how the identities clash would be in the playground. On July 2nd, in a PT session, where we are all engaged in playing football, I was mowed down by a defender who gave his hand and said, “Mascherano is going to break your Muller’s leg tomorrow”. The palpable tension that cut across international boundaries had descended into a school’s playground, fomenting the everlasting rivalry between two football powerhouses along with the creation of an intense rivalry between the defender and a striker. Both of us waited impatiently for the next day to break so that we can watch and cheer for our team and harangue the loser the next day. The show was set to commence around 8 PM IST on 3rd July 2010, a Saturday, in Star Sports if memory serves me right.
The Saturday was quite uneventful. As is common with a typical 7th standard youth at that time, half the day was spent indulging on pleasures to the great annoyance of parents. Apart from the constant din of “Go and study”, the afternoon was quite enjoyable. It was evident that the World Cup euphoria had set in well and truly as almost all newspapers were making analysis, players predicting the score, detailed analysis of defence, midfield and how Germans and Argentinians will fight it out and so on so forth. I would like to note that almost 75% of the predictions favoured Argentina to beat Germany by a margin of 2 goals, which greatly disappointed me. For me it simply could not happen as, if Germany had lost, but to face my friends as Albus Dumbledore said, “It’d take a great deal of bravery to stand up to your friends”. Be that as it may, the household transformed itself after 3 PM. There would be no shouting, commanding or peroration about my state of studies, which made the World Cup period more blissful than any other time.
Me and my father, a German fan himself, fixed ourselves in front of the TV well before 8 PM, to ward off the potential threats any football fans in the world face; the serpentine, un-ending soap operas that ferociously multiplied in the Indian channels especially in Malayalam. This tactic won us the scorn from my grandmother and my sister but it was worth it and we would probably do it a hundred times again. Whilst we were waiting for the clash of titans, my dad got a call from his friend, the friend said, “We are screening the match in large screen at Lions Club today, come”. That was the cue he needed to get out of the house and enjoy the match with a mature audience and fortunately enough, he asked me to tag along too. I was excited beyond all measures; I wasn’t accustomed to watching a match with more than two people and the offer to come along was the first time I’ve been a part of something larger than myself. So, we set along, garbed in our newly bought jerseys and shorts of German National team, looking funny to the outsiders but we were immensely proud to sport that identity in the public where the Latin Americans ruled the streets.
After a short walk we had reached our destination, where the club modelled itself as an indoor auditorium with a concrete badminton court occupying the centre. The walls, an unpainted assemblage of bricks reflected a sense of antiqueness for the building. Near the stage, elevated from the badminton courts’ western section, gloriously remodelled itself as the pedestal for our screen. The screen was erected over two long poles with the projectors’ lens beamed at it. There were some images flickering in it but no coherent version of it was materialising, which concerned the whole party gathered over there. Luckily, the operators identified the problem and quickly began to work on it with a sense of urgency. There was a food counter operating in the far side of the court where all the delicacies were served so that everyone can go happy. It added the festiveness of Jogo Bonito which all of us worship.
The situation in the club was no less different than the one we saw in the street. More than half of the members wore the white and the pale blue of Argentina whilst most of the Germans like us, incorrectly wore their iconic white kit whilst the team played in black, earning the ridicule from our Latin American ‘fre’nemies, in a historical and non-historical sense.
When the clock turned 7:30, the screen miraculously sprung to life and the thin line which separated the supporters became the no-man’s land, incidentally the centre-line of the badminton court. This became a sacred space where both parties undoubtedly enmeshed themselves with an unwritten law that even the militant supporters dared to violate. After the cordial exchange of pleasantries, the battle music reverberating in the Cape Town Stadium, emanated from our screen and after that we retired to our seats.
The teams walked out of the tunnel, led by the referees and by their captain’s was a majestic sight. They stood resolute when their respective national anthems were sung, which was also sung along by our own members present in the audience. The only unanimous gesture both parties present in the crowd did was to raise themselves from their chair when the camera panned to show Lionel Messi, a uniting figure for the about-to-be fighting Germans and Argentinians. The referee blew the whistle and the game had commenced.
The roar from the German side began early with Thomas Muller scoring from a free-kick taken by Bastian Schweinsteiger. The 3rd minute goal by Muller ignited the German fans into a euphoric pitch with a lot of hand-flinging and challenges to the other side. I remember one fellow saying, “Thank god Germans scored otherwise we’d have seen Maradona run naked in the pitch”, a jibe against Maradona who promised that he’d run naked if Argentina won the cup. The sensible members in the crowd knew that it was too early in the match to celebrate the goal, their restraint to join the festivities as compared with the activities by the younger members, including me, was markedly different. However, they showed no restraint in taunting the Argentinians who got a serious knock in the first half itself. Around 30 minutes into the game, a poor free-kick taken by Messi shattered against the German wall but they couldn’t repossess the ball which came tottering towards Mascherano, who promptly gave a through-ball to Carlos Tevez whose deceptive positioning had evaded the sight of the all reaching German no.1 Manual Neuer. Mascherano’s pass was promptly collected by Tevez, who squared the ball across to Gonzalo Higuain who was rightly placed just outside the 6 yard box. Higuain, without a hesitation, shot the ball with greater intensity than required for an empty net. The roar that ensued from the Argentinian flag bearers was deafening. Someone even brought a Vuvuzela and blew that instrument with an impassioned glee. On top of that, the clanging of tables and plates issued a much more terrifying sound than the Vuvuzela. We knew then and there that if we were to lose this match, it’s better to call an ambulance. As the broadcast zoomed in on the replay, we saw that the linesman had raise the flag, after a brief consultation with the main referee had signalled offside as Tevez and Higuain were beyond the German line of defence. This decision had put a stop to all the celebrations from the Argentinian side and curiously enough, no German went over to rub salt on their wounds. It was schadenfreude moment for us. After that, the match proceeded smoothly and the referee blew the whistle to signal the end of first half. The stats showed Germans had the upper hand in terms of ball possession, shots on target etc. than the Argentinians, which was a relief to the knowledgeable members of the crowd. The food on the counter was fast diminishing and I rushed to get the last portion of curries and chapatti. Whilst I was peacefully gobbling upon the food, the teams emerged from the tunnel and stepped on to the field and soon the second half was underway.
The second half was a tough time for both sets of supporters. Argentina desperately needed a goal to get back in to the game, while the Germans, tenuously hanging on to that one-goal lead, tried to rein in Messi by pulling back their midfielders. The time between 45-64 minutes witnessed a perfect display of attacking football from both the sides. German’s caustic fear of Messi shone throughout this period, but they managed to put on a creditable tactical display, such that the Argentinian attacks led by the mercurial Messi withered away in the German half, time after time. It was evident that Joachim Low had created a contingency plan just for Messi in case if the G.O.A.T (would be) ran circles around the Germans. The massive attacks unleashed by both teams kept the audience at the edge of their seats and moreover, they knew that this match was not to be decided by a solitary goal. In the 68th minute, the jersey number 10 of Germany, Lukas Podolski swerved away from the defenders and made a dash towards the post from the left flank, leaving the South American defenders to bite his dust. Sergio Romero, the Argentinian goalkeeper, rushed out from his goal line to stop Podolski. Romero effectively closed the angle but Podolski was able to pass the ball to Miroslav Klose, who was working overtime in his designated position, swept the ball on to the back of the net, doing something which he would eventually do more than any other player in the history of the World Cups. The crowd, both on the field and off the field erupted into a fit of massive hysteria. Half of them couldn’t believe what had transpired in the field. In almost all of the pre-match analyses, many of the pundits had given detailed presentation on the superiority of Argentinian defence and how they would overpower the Germans in their traditional forte. This further validated my belief in the glorious uncertainty that is football. It was Miroslav Klose’s 13th goal, two short of Ronaldo’s record of 15 World Cup goals with Brazil. The German side heaved a huge sigh of relief. It was not an insurmountable goal margin but it was enough to keep a safe distance from Argentinians. After that, the spectre of defeat began to descend slowly onto the hearts of the Argentinians. The player’s committed sloppy mistakes, gave mis-passes and Lionel Messi, was practically rendered ineffective by the superior German tactics curated especially for him. The descent to chaos was visibly evident as it was the Germans with their superior teamwork and coordination who were virtually overpowering the Argentinians in all departments of the game. The reversal of fortune disheartened them. The fans also felt the turning of the tide as many of them began to vacate their seats and possibly left for home, fearing the ridicule they were sure to be subjected upon.
Predictably, the disconnected defensive web laid by the Argentinians floundered pathetically at the swift run-ins by the Germans. In the 74th minute, Schweinsteiger dashed forth to collect a short corner on the left, burst into a sprint and outpaced Angel di Maria. Schweinsteiger then feinted to the left, which disoriented the attacking midfielder Javier Pastore placed in the defence, giving enough time for Arne Friedrich to come inside behind the player. Schweinsteiger passed the ball to Friedrich who drilled it into the net. Friedrich’s goal was not just a ball rolling into the net; it was the final nail to the Argentinians coffin. The score; Germany (3) and Argentina (0), was not predicted by any of the pundits and Paul Octopus had much more luck regarding this matter. The crowd rose from their seats and began their well-earned celebration. There was dancing, hugging and shaking hands and everyone recommenced their standard taunting, most of them levelled against Messi and Maradona. There never was a more complete victory or a near-perfect disaster till the Brazilian debacle in 2014.
As it was evident that Argentina was on the verge of a humiliating defeat, the crowd on the other side began to thin and only a few resolute fans stood their ground to see their team “ Go gently into the good night”. Even the Germans, after the incessant haranguing of their opponents, began to soften their vitriolic measures. It would be safe to say that we felt pity on the poor souls so much so that their terrible fate won’t be accentuated by our harsh criticisms. The game, running live on the screen, edged on to its final moments.
With two minutes remaining on the clock, the Argentinians committed an error, an error so grievous such that Miroslav Klose, the striker with an insatiable appetite for a goal, capitalised on it on a whim. He netted his 14th FIFA World Cup goal, just one short of the legendary Ronaldo, in the closing moments of the match. By that time, the energy of both team’s fans had dissipated and barely a sound was heard apart from the minor celebration. Argentina had been annihilated by Germany. The score being 4- 0, convincingly snuffed out all possible criticisms that could be levelled against Germany. In strict military terms, it was a complete rout similar to the Battle of Waterloo. In the larger context, the Latin Americans didn’t fare particularly well throughout the tournament, the exception being Uruguay who marched into the semi-finals with their heads held high.
The crowd gathered at the Club cheered away for Germany, even some fans of Argentina joined the victory parade. There was a post-match analysis on how, why and where Argentina had lost their footing, but the quorum agreed on the fact that the Germans were invincible, which eventually proved to be an overstatement. Slowly, the crowd began to thin and the vastness of the empty hall began to dawn upon me and we left soon after that.
It was a proud moment for me and my father, as I had later understood; he was also mocked by his friends for supporting Germany. It was visible from our countenance that it was not just a victory for the Germans, but a victory for us too. As Nehru said in his August 14th speech at the Red Fort, “when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance”, the victory of the German National team enabled us to become contumaciously diverge from the hard-liners of Latin American football. Moreover, I was anxiously waiting for Monday to pounce upon my friend, who predicted a massive victory for Argentina, to tease the spirit out of him. I think we had not spoken on Monday and I believe my silence would have been an ominous thunder for him.
I still do not understand why this game pops into my mind when someone asks “What was the greatest game you saw?” I cannot pull the statistics nor put an analysis like the pundits, but I distinctly remember that I had absolute fun in watching this game and recollecting it over all these years.
The writer is a Integrated Masters student in History at University of Hyderabad. This article is the third in the series “most memorable football match of my life” by our readers. If you want to write about your experience of watching your favourite match, you can contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s use this quarantine time to reminisce our football memories.