Tenacious Germans Beat Out Argentina

Friday, June 30th 2006, 7:49 am
By: News On 6

BERLIN (AP) _ Racked with exhaustion, its leader hobbled by cramps and fatigue, Germany summoned its last ounces of energy.

Showing there's no end to their resourcefulness and tenacity at this World Cup, the hosts beat Argentina 4-2 in a shootout Friday after a grueling 1-1 draw. Moments after he sat on the pitch at the end of a scoreless extra time, captain Michael Ballack made a penalty kick to help dispatch an old rival _ and one of the tournament's fellow glamour teams.

While Germany took advantage of Argentina backup keeper Leonardo Franco with one penalty kick after another, veteran Jens Lehmann stopped two, putting Germany in the semifinals of the World Cup.

``It's a thriller, like a Hitchcock movie,'' Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann said. ``Obviously you're the happiest person in the world if you win it, and the saddest if you lose.''

The party heads to Dortmund for the semifinal Tuesday against the Italy-Ukraine quarterfinal winner, where Germany is riding a feeling of near-invincibility. The Germans, looking like world beaters after their toughest test, seek their fourth world title.

Argentina heads home exhausted, despite controlling the ball for most of the match.

``It was a very emotional game, worth a quarterfinal,'' said Argentina coach Jose Pekerman, who resigned after the game. ``Argentina played like a favorite, played well, even though they lost.''

Argentina, which came into the game having lived up to its reputation with creative, free-flowing offense, played tentatively in the first half but went up 1-0 early in the second on Roberto Ayala's soaring header in the 49th minute.

But rather than panic after falling behind for the first time in the tournament, the Germans relentlessly wore down Argentina from there. Germany pressed the attack on Franco, who was playing only his third game with Argentina and his first minutes of the World Cup.

Regular goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri went out after a collision with Miroslav Klose in the 71st minute. Nine minutes later, Klose's header tied it.

Ballack lofted a pass into the penalty area. Substitute Borowski blindly headed it across the goalmouth for Klose, who ducked inside a defender, dived toward the net and headed it past Franco into the far corner of the goal.

This was the most anticipated match of the World Cup so far, pairing two powers who have split World Cup championship meetings. It was Germany's resurgent offense against the team that scored two of the most spectacular goals of the tournament.

But if this was the classic soccer so many hoped for, it was a major disappointment early on _ even the 72,000 fans seemed let down, and the usual fervor was missing.

The visitors controlled the ball for two-thirds of the first half, and even though they created few chances on goal _ the dangerous Hernan Crespo was invisible _ they dictated a slower pace that frustrated the Germans. Ballack began limping midway through the period, and Klose, the leading scorer in the tournament, touched the ball just a couple of times.

That changed as the drama built, right into the shootout.

``We knew it was going to be very, very tough,'' Klinsmann said. ``These were the strongest two teams so far.''

The shootout was completely lopsided, however.

Oliver Neuville, Ballack, Lukas Podolski and Tim Borowski had no trouble scoring on Franco. Ayala and Esteban Cambiasso were stopped by Lehmann, who guessed correctly on both saves _ and nearly saved another.

Klinsmann's choice of Lehmann to start over 2002 star Oliver Kahn had caused controversy in Germany.

``We have a strong belief in Jens Lehmann,'' Klinsmann added. ``As a former striker, I don't want to face him, and he proved that.''

When Lehmann made the final save, the German players, who had been standing arm-in-arm on the field, sprinted to mob him. The crowd, which less than an hour before sensed an early end with their team down 1-0, erupted with singing, flag-waving and chants.

Several players twirled towels and their jerseys as they toured the Olympic Stadium pitch in exultation.

``I don't live in Germany, so I am really enjoying this, seeing how the fans are celebrating with us,'' Lehmann said.

The Argentines trudged off with a painful defeat. The end was marred by pushing and shoving on the field, and Germany assistant coach Oliver Bierhoff said ``Per Mertesacker was struck with full force in the leg by an Argentine reserve player, he was on the ground, the players started going for each other.''

Argentina's Leandro Cufre, who did not play, was given a red card after the shootout.

By the end of extra time, the limping Ballack didn't have much left, and was unable to chase loose balls.

``I would have gone out, but we already made three substitutions,'' said Ballack, who was cramping up. ``So I had to tough it out.''

Yet he and the other Germans found the strength to make their penalty kicks.