The defeat of Argentina also saw the exit of Lionel Messi, but he is not the colourful ball of energy that we will miss. Messi went quietly, the latest in a depressingly long line of fireworks that failed to go off in South Africa. No, the one for whom tears were shed was Diego Maradona, in whose image Argentina set about this World Cup.
As Ossie Ardiles said in his excellent commentary in The Sunday Telegraph, Maradona was a joy to be around here. He was not the eccentric figure of ridicule that many expected him to be. His omissions were perhaps fatal in the end. What Argentina might have done against Germany had Esteban Cambiaso been at Javier Mascherano's side in deep midfield and Javier Zanetti stationed at left-back instead of that washed-up stiff, Gabriel Heinze.
But you can't have it all ways with Maradona. His investment in the people he liked and trusted made Argentina the tournament's most vibrant team in the early stages. His walk down the line in the tunnel embracing each of his players in turn with a kiss on the cheek, his vaudeville goal celebrations in those ridiculous silver threads, his demonstrations in training of how to tame the reluctant Jabulani, shaping it over the wall like a 20 year-old with the world's best left foot, and best of all, the drawing on that Havana cigar while participating in five-a-sides. All gone, maybe forever. In the aftermath of defeat he hinted at walking away from the job, although Heinze yesterday led calls for him to stay on.
"Now is not the time to make these decisions," said Heinze. "Surely it would be better to wait until the emotion has cooled."
The Maradona model might be called the charismatic method. It relies on the ability of the talisman to inspire those around him to believe that anything is possible. Maradona imbued his team with a sense of camaraderie, joie de vivre and nationhood that took them deep into the tournament but ultimately foundered when confronted by a systematic organiser. This World Cup will not be won by the guru managing by mood but by the method man with a team drilled to perfection.
Joachim Löw and Germany are the greatest expression of that in this tournament. Low does not have a Messi, a Wayne Rooney, a Cristiano Ronaldo, a Kaka with which to work. He has Bastian Schweinsteiger, a gate keeper compared to Messi but a player with iron in his soul who carries out instructions to the letter.
Schweinsteiger, aided by experienced pros like, Phillip Lahm, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, provided the framework for the youthful, enthusiastic legs of Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller.
Argentina's woeful defence was shredded in the opening 25 minutes during which Germany could have been out of sight. Maradona did not have an answer because ultimately, he did not have the players. His greatest asset, Messi, could not bring his genius to bear. He was a distant traveller wandering through the battle zone like a soldier in shell shock.
For Messi read Ronaldo and Rooney, none of whom could get themselves up for national service in South Africa. One wonders if they were not all afflicted with the same malaise linked to the highs and exertions of the club game. They are employed by three of the biggest clubs on earth, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United, institutions at which they can fulfil all their ambitions in the game. One goal between the three of them and that by Ronaldo in a seven-goal rout of North Korean, takes some explaining.
Maradona and Löw were asked about this and neither had any intelligence to offer. Maradona scratched his beard for a bit before losing interest in the question. You couldn't blame him. Different times, he said. Maybe the game was different in his day, with teams prepared to indulge individual talent more, was his best guess.
Mine is that when playing for their clubs, Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney are motivated by being surrounded by better players. The Champions League sets the highest standards these days, not the World Cup.
The German experience is different. The Bundesliga is not regarded as the pinnacle. Germany does not pay the mad wages of Spain and England and the players with the stellar profiles do not play there. This might explain the powerful motivation to prove themselves as a country.