This contest featured everything that has too often been lacking during the last month. There were end-to-end attacks, thrilling goals and defensive howlers, and a lead that switched back and forward throughout a game with a dramatic finale. It had it all, except much meaning for players still hurting from mid-week elimination from the game that matters.
Germany made clear their disdain for having to compete in football’s saddest kick-about for the second World Cup in a row. They started their third choice goalkeeper Butt and captain Lahm gave himself the day off. Up front Klose failed to shake off a back injury and so lost his final chance to try and overtake Ronaldo as the World Cup’s greatest hit-man. Muller was back, partnered up front by the limited Brazilian Cacau, in for Podolski.
Uruguay was back at full strength, following the suspensions and injuries that handicapped them against the Dutch. Even so Germany started brighter, with central defender Friedrich heading against the bar in the opening minutes. Then just as Uruguay was slowly playing itself into the game Germany scored in the 18th minute. Muslera, who had a game to forget in Uruguay’s goal, could not hold a swerving Schweinsteiger shot from distance, and Muller pounced to knock in the loose ball for his fifth goal of the competition.
Uruguay responded well with Luis Suarez at the heart of their best moves. Returning after his red card against Ghana, his every touch was booed by the crowd. But for a player who served his apprenticeship in the bear-pits of South American football it was water off a duck’s back. One turn and pass in the box presented Forlan with a header that was hooked away. Later he was through on goal but narrowly shot wide.
Thankfully for Uruguay, in-between he was central to a beautiful counter-attacking goal straight out of this German team’s playbook. A fantastic tackle in the middle of the park saw Perez rob Schweinsteiger and feed Suarez in one move. The striker played a beautifully weighted pass to Cavani steaming in from the left. A sweet finish meant the teams went in level at half time.
Then shortly after the restart Uruguay took the lead when Forlan added another beauty to his tournament collection, when under pressure he hammered a cross into the ground and past Butt. Uruguay was now enjoying the game and creating chances, only to see its keeper let Germany back into it five minutes after Forlan put them in the driving seat. Muslera came for a dipping cross from the right by Boateng and missed it completely. The ball knocked off Jansen and sailed into the unguarded net.
Level and with half an hour to play both teams went for it. It was exciting but tempered with the suspicion that the players were gung-ho because not having wanted to play this game in the first place they were determined to avoid extra-time. Both teams had chances but the momentum was with Germany when they scored with just eight minutes left, Khedira heading in after a corner pinged off several Uruguayan defenders.
There was just one last sting in the tail left – a free-kick right at the death for Uruguay, right on the edge of the box. Forlan cracked a beauty onto the bar. With it went Uruguay’s chance of taking the game to extra-time, and Forlan’s of claiming the lead in the race to be top scorer, leaving him with five. Germany won, but their sheepish celebrations at the final whistle were an eloquent comment on what this game really meant to the players involved.