Argentina head home Sunday with their World Cup dream in tatters and coach Diego Maradona lamenting the toughest day of his life as he considers whether to quit.
The South American giants didn’t just lose to long-time rival Germany in the quarter-finals, they were humiliated 4-0 and it appears Maradona’s reign could be over.
A third-minute goal by Thomas Mueller stunned the Argentines, putting them in an unaccustomed position, and they never recovered.
Germany turned the screw after the interval with Miroslav Klose getting two more in his 100th game and centre-back Arne Friedrich scoring his first for his country.
It was Argentina’s worst World Cup defeat since they lost to the Netherlands, also 4-0, in 1974 and Maradona said he felt a deep sadness.
‘The day I stopped playing football could be similar, but this sadness is really strong,’ said the former midfield maestro, who hung up his boots on his 37th birthday in 1997.
‘It’s tough because the idea was to go beyond this match and be among the four best teams and we didn’t achieve that.
‘We all had this hope and dream and we were just thinking about winning and the opposite happened.’
As one of Argentina’s most celebrated and controversial figures, on and off the field, Maradona has been through countless highs and lows, but he said Saturday’s defeat was the hardest thing he had ever faced.
‘I lived through this in 1982 as a player. I was a boy and didn’t realise the importance of things,’ he said.
‘Today I’m nearly 50, I’m mature and this is the toughest moment in my life. It is really like a kick in the face. I have no more energy for anything.’
Maradona, who was appointed coach in November 2008 after overcoming cocaine addiction despite having little previous managerial experience, indicated that he may quit, but that he needed time to think.
He said in his post-match press-conference that ‘I may leave tomorrow’, but when pushed, Maradona appeared to backtrack.
‘We will see what happens. I haven’t thought about leaving, I have to check with my family, with the players. There are a number of things I have to consider,’ said the 49-year-old.
‘But as coach and player, the type of football people like is this one. Touch the ball, rotate, run, Argentina can’t play a different style.’
Argentina is a football-mad nation and how the team is received on their return could determine Maradona’s fate.
He is acutely aware of having let down an expectant nation.
‘I am totally disappointed like everyone in Argentina,’ he said.
‘We will go back to our country and that is difficult after losing but we will sit down and work out what happened.
‘I don’t think anybody can be happy with the result. We live and breathe football and no-one will be glad we lost 4-0.’
While Maradona was clearly upset at losing, it was the size of the defeat that was the real surprise.
Few expected Germany to take them apart as they did, with Argentina coming into the match having won all their group games and the round of 16 clash against Mexico.
Maradona suggested that the scoreline did not tell the real story, despite Germany controlling the game.
‘We studied Germany well and defined exactly who was playing where but from the first cross they got a goal and suddenly it was a different match,’ he said of Mueller’s opener.
‘We made it easy for them. They had more ideas and better control of the ball. They took advantage of the opportunities they had.
‘But this does not take away from my belief that the result does not correspond with what happened on the pitch.’
(Agnece France-Presse . Cape Town)