Argentina's larger-than-life coach Diego Maradona did much to silence his critics on Wednesday with a 1-0 away win against fellow FIFA World Cup™ favourites Germany through a Gonzalo Higuain strike.
"God willing, we are going to give our people a good World Cup," the 49-year-old, pictured in the German press smoking cigars this week while his team trained, said after the friendly in Munich's Allianz Arena.
Ninety-nine days before the World Cup in South Africa, the clash found "El Diez" under some pressure after the 1978 and 1986 winners came within a whisker of not qualifying and for his selection of over 100 different players. But his side outshone Germany on Wednesday.
Although it was Germany's Philipp Lahm who had the first shot of the match, it was the visitors who looked the more dangerous of the two sides. Fifteen minutes later, Angel di Maria dribbled his way past a sea of German defenders to fire off a shot. Germany goalkeeper Rene Adler, fresh from being named Germany's first-choice netminder this week, pulled off a spectacular save, deflecting the ball onto the woodwork.
Argentina really was a very, very strong team with lots of strong individual players. We didn't manage to build up pressure today, to make use of chances.
But then just before the break, disaster struck for the Germans with a slip-up from Adler, who plays for high-flying Bundesliga outfit Bayer Levekusen, that made his selection look not quite so shrewd. Adler sprinted out of his goal to intercept the ball from a fast-approaching Higuain, but the Real Madrid star won the challenge, rounded the 'keeper and tapped into the open goal.
"Mistakes get punished at this level," said Germany coach Joachim Loew, who was assistant coach when Germany beat Argentina in a penalty shootout in the 2006 World Cup quarter-finals. "Argentina really was a very, very strong team with lots of strong individual players. We didn't manage to build up pressure today, to make use of chances."
The episode was much to the disapproval of long-term 'keeper Oliver "King" Kahn, now resigned to the commentary box. "If you leave your goal you have to make sure you get the ball. Otherwise you should stay on your line," he said.
In the second half both sides made changes up front, Manchester City's Carlos Tevez for Higuain and for the Germans, Brazilian-born Stuttgart star Cacau for Werder Bremen's Mesut Ozil. The Germans came out looking in better form than in the first period, winning more possession and creating more pressure in the opponents' half, but they never looked really dangerous.
Their best chances came though Cacau, who has been on sparkling form in the Bundesliga, with shots in the 77th and 83rd minutes, the second a half-volley which whistled over the crossbar. "Our mistake was not to take more risks up front," said Germany captain Michael Ballack.
According to FIFA's latest world rankings, Germany is number five - four places above Argentina at nine, one behind England. Argentina is drawn against Nigeria, South Korea and Greece in the World Cup, which runs from June 11 to July 11 in South Africa. Germany will face Ghana, Serbia and Australia.