A brilliant performance from Angel Di Maria spurred Argentina to a crushing 4-2 friendly win over World champions Germany on Wednesday in an entertaining rematch of July’s World Cup final.
Despite the absence of injured captain Lionel Messi, Argentina ran circles around the World Cup winners on their home turf in the first match for both teams since Germany’s 1-0 extra-time victory in the final in Brazil.
So impressive was the performance of the Argentine winger, who had missed the final through injury, in the Duesseldorf arena that even many of the German fans applauded his performance when he was replaced late in the match.
Germany coach Joachim Loew put only four of the starting 11 that won Germany’s fourth World Cup on the pitch in the warm-up match for their Euro 2016 campaign that starts on Sunday against Scotland.
Captain Philipp Lahm, striker Miroslav Klose and defender Per Mertesacker, who all retired following the World Cup triumph, were hailed by the sell-out crowd of 51,132 while several other key players were missing through injury.
The inexperienced Germany defence could not contain new Manchester United signing Di Maria in the first half but also left lots of open space for lightening counter-attacks by moving deep into Argentina’s territory.
Di Maria set up the first goal in the 21st minute with a pinpoint lob to the penalty spot where Sergio Aguero slipped away from his marker and beat Manuel Neuer with an unstoppable volley from point-blank range.
Nineteen minutes later Di Maria broke free on the right near the goal line where he lofted a cross back to Erik Lamela, standing in for the injured Lionel Messi, who smashed a fine volley past a frustrated-looking Neuer.
Central defender Federico Fernandez headed the third two minutes after the intermission from Di Maria’s free kick before the winger made it 4-0 with a superb chip in the 50th minute.
“Di Maria is one of the best four or five players in the world and so his performance didn’t surprise me,” said Argentina’s new coach Gerardo Martino, adding he could have possibly made a difference had he been on the pitch in July.
“His absence there was noticeable,” Martino told a news conference looking back to the World Cup final.
But Loew later told reporters he did not think Di Maria would have made a difference in the final. “We would have beaten them on July 13 even if Di Maria had been playing,” Loew said, a statement that prompted some German reporters to applaud. “He couldn’t have beaten us on that day.”
Germany came into the match still aglow over their World Cup win in Brazil but were facing a rout when they fell behind 4-0. Andre Schuerrle finally gave the big home crowd something to cheer when got one back for Germany in the 52nd minute, tapping in after a scramble in front of Sergio Romero’s goal and World Cup hero Mario Goetze made it 4-2 in the 78th minute. Germany had plenty of chances themselves, especially in the first half, but were wasteful in front of goal.
Forward Mario Gomez, who missed the World Cup due to injury, reminded German fans of another reason he may have been left at home as he wasted three chances in the first half and was jeered at halftime before being replaced early in the second. “It was a long time with injuries for me but it’s great to be here,” Gomez told reporters.
England defeat Norway
Wayne Rooney marked the start of his England captaincy by scoring a penalty in an uninspiring 1-0 victory over Norway in front a record-low crowd for the team at the new Wembley Stadium on Wednesday. In England’s first game since its worst-ever World Cup showing, Roy Hodgson’s side rarely looked like scoring against unambitious opposition and the breakthrough in the friendly only came when Raheem Sterling was tripped in the penalty area.
From the penalty spot, Rooney’s 41st international goal in the 68th minute gave the 28-year-old striker sole possession of fourth place on the England scoring leaderboard, just eight behind Bobby Charlton’s record. “We all could have done better,’’ Rooney said. “In the first half we moved quite well but they made it difficult for us and sat back and created a few opportunities in the first half.
“In the second half we started really sloppy and that was disappointing as we wanted to go out and really take the game to them.’’ The attendance was given as 40,181 but appeared to be lower at 90,000-capacity stadium, given it included the 17,000 Club Wembley members who have access to every game. The previous lowest since the new stadium opened in 2007 saw 48,876 attend a 2011 friendly against Sweden.
When England left Brazil early after losing twice and drawing once, this friendly was always going to be a tough sell when England is contracted to playing all home games at Wembley.
With stalwart midfielders Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard retiring after the World Cup, this was being billed as the start of a new era, with the average age of the starting lineup 24 as England prepares for the start of qualifying for the 2016 European Championship at Switzerland on Monday.
In post-World Cup post mortem much scrutiny has come on the limiting opportunities for English youngsters. That was highlighted when the summer transfer window closed with the bulk of $1.38 billion splurged by epl clubs being on foreign players.
The stubborn Norwegians, who open Euros qualifying against Italy, should be more worried about the state of its national team, which hasn’t qualified for a tournament since Euro 2000 and was content sitting back for much of game in north London, showing limited ambition.