In 24 stormy hours this World Cup lost Brazil, Argentina, the cabaret that is Diego Maradona and Ghana, Africa's last hope. Finally it waved goodbye, too, to a stereotype. From the old mechanical Germany has emerged a youthful majesty.

At last a straw of consolation for England. Lionel Messi and Argentina were crushed even more savagely than trudging England, who at least managed a goal in their 4-1 beating in Bloemfontein. Germany strode from the scene of that rout to score four without reply against Maradona's Argentina, before Spain came through a dramatic encounter with Paraguay to join them in Wednesday's semi-final in Durban. The urge to mourn the loss of the two South American superpowers had to be resisted as Joachim Löw's men displayed the new German radiance with goals from Thomas Müller, Arne Friedrich and Miroslav Klose, who scored twice on the day he earned his 100th cap.

Germany's supporters were seized by euphoric disbelief as they swept out of Cape Town's Green Point Stadium into a soft winter sunset. The great German ensemble of Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller are the foundation of the country's footballing identity but this generation have rewritten the manual on what the Nationalmannschaft should aspire to be. This is self-reinvention on a scale unknown in recent European football and one England would be wise to copy.

The longshot of German brilliance has romped home at a World Cup where none of the individual aristocrats shone. Against a German team beautifully endowed to make their 4-2-3-1 formation swamp the opposition Messi joined the ranks of innocuous household names. Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká were also snuffed out. Messi was the best of them but in this quarter-final there were few of the weaving runs and piercing shots that illuminate his play for Barcelona.

Into the gap left by the headline acts have jumped a crop of vibrant German youngsters who had no right to expect that success in last summer's European Under-21 championship could be followed by eight goals against England and Argentina and a semi-final meeting with Spain. Some thought a collision with Messi, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano would bring the end of this spectacular evolution, for now, but Müller, Mesut Ozil (nicknamed "Messi" by his team-mates), Jérôme Boateng and Bastian Schweinsteiger – the best midfielder in this competition – crashed straight through it, though Müller is suspended for Wednesday's game after picking up a yellow card for handball.

A World Cup needs not only memorable games and fine individual but also stories. Ghana becoming the first African country to reach a semi-final would have been one, as would Maradona lifting the trophy 24 years after he held it as a player and six years after a cocaine-induced heart emergency put him on a respirator. These two narratives were shredded by Uruguay on Friday and Germany in a game that left Maradona feeling he had been "kicked in the face".

The charge sheet against El Diego, the manager, will read that he left Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti at home, made too little use of Diego Milito, Inter's Champions League-winning striker, and failed to draw the best from Messi, who wandered around the pitch without claiming a sufficiently advanced position for him to inflict his usual damage. Another inexplicable Maradona decision was the selection of Maxi Rodríguez (who has looked geriatric at Liverpool) instead of Juan Sebastián Verón in central midfield.

Nicolás Otamendi, meanwhile, was a disaster at right-back, committing foul after foul in threatening positions. His hack at Lukas Podolski produced the free-kick from which Müller glided in to score with his head after three minutes. Germany endured numerous torrid phases in mid-game before Klose extended their lead on 68 minutes, Friedrich added a third six minutes later and Klose embellished his contribution with a somersault to commemorate Germany's fourth a minute from time.

This was a mighty, exhilarating triumph that adds a new template to the international style book. "It was a true champions' performance," Löw said, perhaps getting ahead of himself, given that there are still two games to win. Plagiarism will not be easy. To copy the new German method requires world-class central orchestration (Schweinsteiger), speed and accuracy along the flanks (Müller, Podolski), creativity in the No10 position (Ozil) and reliable finishing (Klose).

Löw says the great shift to youth was made after they lost to Spain in the final of Euro 2008 but his employers instituted the reforms that have produced more speed, more skill and fresh tactical intelligence after the premature exit at Euro 2000. At the 2006 World Cup on German soil Jürgen Klinsmann abandoned the automated style that had helped the country win three world and three European titles but only now has a fresh wave of talent arrived to complete the transformation. Michael Ballack, the heart of the German team for almost a decade, is a spectator at the rebirth.

"The fact we won't have Müller in the semi-final is a serious blow," Löw said. "He's shown just how dangerous he is. He's everywhere on the pitch."

What Argentina would give to be fretting about one suspension instead of the demolition of their hopes and Maradona's credibility. They took a wild gamble and it came up empty, Germany drew up a scheme and watched it shine. Planning never looked so pretty.