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Adieu Argentina, Pekerman too

Pekerman announced he was stepping down Friday just minutes after Germany defeated Argentina 4-2 in a penalty shootout in the World Cup quarterfinals.

india Updated: Jul 01, 2006 18:44 IST

Argentina is out of the World Cup, and coach Jose Pekerman is leaving as coach.

Pekerman announced he was stepping down Friday just minutes after Germany defeated Argentina 4-2 in a penalty shootout in the World Cup quarterfinals.

Penalties settled things after the two former champions were level at 1-1 after 90 minutes and 30 minutes of extra time. "For sure I am not going to continue," said the 56-year-old Pekerman, who took over the team in September of 2004 from Marcelo Bielsa.

"This is over," he added when asked a second time about his decision. "A cycle comes to an end and I will certainly not go on. I am convinced that I did whatever was within my reach. It's time to look for something else."

Pekerman won three world youth titles for Argentina _ 1995, '97 and 2001 _ before moving up to the top job in Argentine soccer. Of the 23 players on this team, 17 played for his youth teams. "I don't know if we let people down again," said 22-year-old striker Carlos Tevez, who started in place of Javier Saviola and was Argentina's biggest threat. "We feel that we left all we had on the field."

The game wasn't quite a classic, though it did recall their two World Cup finals. Argentina won 3-2 in 1986, and Germany prevailed 1-0 in 1990.

The loss means two-time champion Argentina hasn't reached the World Cup semifinals since 1990, but it partially made up for 2002 when the Gauchos were ousted in the first round.

Three-time champion Germany is into the semifinals for the 11th time, repeating it semifinal appearance four years ago in South Korea and Japan.

"I always believed in these players and they never betrayed me," said Pekerman, his graying hair mussed and his forehead deeply wrinkled. "To the very last penalty we still believed." The penalty miss that put Argentina out was by midfielder Esteban Cambiasso, who was stopped by Jens Lehmann diving to his left on a low shot. Cambiasso walked toward the sideline, breaking into tears. Others like Juan Pablo Sorin and Javier Mascherano also cried openly.

Seconds later, players from both teams charged each other at the center of the field. There was pushing and shoving, apparently set off as both teams taunted each other during the penalty shootout. "Sometimes emotions will flare up," Pekerman said. "It was a very emotional moment. Let's leave it at that."

The game got away from Argentina, which had 65 percent of the possession in the first half and took the lead in the 49th minute on Roberto Ayala's leaping header. Instead, the goal lifted Germany, which began to apply unrelenting pressure, spurred on by the 72,000 sellout at the Olympic Stadium.

Then disaster struck.

With about 20 minutes of regulation time to play, goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri went off with a leg injury in a collision with Miroslav Klose. That set off a string of substitutions, two of which were forced on Pekerman.

Leonardo Franco came on in the 71st to replace Abbondanzieri, making his World Cup debut and playing only his third game for the national team. Pekerman later called Abbondanzieri the "team's ace of spades," particularly in penalty situations." A minute later, Pekerman sent on defensive midfielder Cambiasso for playmaking Juan Roman Riquelme. Pekerman said Riquelme was tiring.

And in the 79th, he took off striker Hernan Crespo and, instead of replacing him with 19-year-old Lionel Messi, sent on striker Julio Cruz.

Cruz is the team's tallest striker at 1.87 meters (6-foot-2). One minute after Cruz entered the match, Klose equalized with a header.

Pekerman was forced to defend not playing the short, fleet, game-breaking Messi.

"If a player is tired and we need somebody or something, I don't think I'm betraying anybody," Pekerman said. "Today there was a need to refresh the team. I felt they were tired. "We know Julio is a great player with a clear role," Pekerman added. "We thought we would perhaps place him in front of the goal. ... We wanted more high balls, more headers."

Pekerman also defended Franco.

"You cannot simply crucify anybody or the goalkeeper for not having stopped the penalty," he said.

Franco failed to stop any of the penalties _ Lehmann stopped two _ and guessed the wrong way on three. He was inconsolable. "I feel very bad. I'm very sad and devastated," Franco said.