Last gasp: Sammy Khedira's goal gives germany the victory and seals a third-place finish
The rule book may already have been well and truly shredded at this World Cup, but there was still time for one more twist in a wet and wild Port Elizabeth on Saturday night: a third-placed play-off brimming over with entertainment and competitive edge.
Traditionally, these fixtures are contested between players still smarting from seeing a date with destiny snatched from them and eagerly eying the sun-lounger. Here, however, was a feisty and fluent contest that saw Germany provide an impressive coda to their tournament.
It will not entirely soothe German angst: the semi-final defeat by Spain still rankles. But this victory was still notable in its own way and bears testament to the spirit fostered by Joachin Löw.
Both sides, however, deserve credit for delivering a fine spectacle for what is, essentially, a meaningless fixture, although Germany’s Dennis Aogo might have chosen a more constructive way of showing his enthusiasm than planting his studs into Diego Perez’s ankle in just the third minute. It was a horrible challenge and Aogo’s sheepish reaction to his yellow card suggested even he had expected harsher sanction.
Such agricultural moments have largely been anathema to Löw’s bright young team and, despite the wretched conditions, they were quickly in their stride once again, with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil producing the kind of tiki-taka passing patterns that Spain would be grateful for in Johannesburg tonight.
Löw’s side can do the mucky stuff, too. In the ninth minute, Müller’s corner from the right was thumped onto the crossbar by Arne Friedrich - a portent of things to come, as far as Uruguay’s discomfort from crosses was concerned - and, in the 18th, Müller went one better, bundling in after Schweinsteiger’s swirling low shot after it had been spilled by Fernando Muslera.
That should have been the cue for Germany to grasp control, but Uruguay’s muscularity is more than just physical. They also have admirable mental strength and, within 17 minutes, parity was restored after Edinson Cavani, set clear by Luis Suarez, toe-poked into the bottom corner.
Nobody celebrated more joyously than Suarez, whose notorious goalline handball against Ghana in the quarter-final earned him pantomime villain status for the African crowd. They delighted in two grisly misses either side of half-time, one dragged wide of the post, the other palmed away from close range by Hans-Jörg Butt.
It was left, once more, for Forlan to show the way. The former Manchester United striker, once so derided by Premier League followers, has become one of world football’s most coveted commodities at this tournament and his price-tag inflated again after he met Egidio Aravalo’s 51st-minute cross with a sweet first-time volley, which bounced past a helpless Butt. It took his tally to five for the competition, level with David Villa, Wesley Sneijder and Müller at the top of the Golden Boot standings.
If only Forlan’s teammates showed more diligence in defending as he does in accruing goals. Crosses had proved taxing for the uneasy Muslera all evening and in the 56th minute another deep, hanging ball, this time from Jerome Boateng, provoked more panic. After the goalkeeper failed to gather, Marcell Jansen had an easy task in heading into an unguarded net.
If that was predictable so, too, was Germany’s late winner, headed in by Sami Khedira after Özil’s cross had caused havoc. It was harsh on Uruguay, not least as Forlan struck the bar in stoppage time, but a World Cup bronze was the least Germany deserved. Gold could yet await in Brazil 2014.