By Rex Gowar
BERLIN (Reuters) – Juan Roman Riquelme came to the World Cup as a potential player of the tournament but his slow march off the pitch with 20 minutes to go foreshadowed Argentina’s quarter-final defeat to hosts Germany on Friday.
Argentina led 1-0 from defender Roberto Ayala’s headed goal from Riquelme’s corner and the South Americans looked like winning in 90 minutes.
Then a double substitution changed the course of the match, Germany equalised and Argentina lost 4-2 in a penalty shootout.
Coach Jose Pekerman had to send on reserve goalkeeper Leo Franco because Roberto Abbondanzieri suffered a rib injury and he also brought off Riquelme and sent on defensive midfielder Esteban Cambiasso.
Freed of the menace of a goal-making pass by Riquelme to one of Argentina’s forwards, the Germans pushed for the equaliser and had it within eight minutes thanks to Miroslav Klose.
“Roman was pretty exhausted. I don’t see it as letting him down (to substitute him), today we needed to refresh our game and I saw he was tired. I still believe in him,” said Pekerman.
Pekerman was also asked why he changed like for like by bringing on Julio Cruz for Hernan Crespo up front when he had tricky ball players like Lionel Messi and Javier Saviola on the bench.
“Maybe with the inclusion of the little speedy ones we could have scored more goals but you have to make a decision in that moment,” said Pekerman, who announced he would not be staying on in his job.
“We might have won the backs of the Germans on the wings and then not had the man in the box to put the ball away.
“This was something Crespo did well in this tournament and Cruz could do the same for us.”
Pekerman in the end was too faithful to his theme of the players being at the service of the team when reality says that a name like Riquelme or Crespo inspires more fear in a defender than a Cambiasso or Cruz.
England beat Argentina 3-2 in a friendly last year with two late goals from Michael Owen after Pekerman had substituted Ayala, Riquelme and Crespo, the team’s backbone, and said afterwards that it was a lesson for the World Cup.
On Friday at the Olimpiastadion, that lesson did not appear to have been fully digested.