- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 1, 2006

BERLIN — 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 yesterday 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 a Tuesday semifinal against Italy. The Germans, riding a feeling of near-invincibility 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 Tim 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 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.”

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