The build up to this game has been dominated by talk of what has gone before. Not only is this a World Cup quarter final, it is one between two sides who have real previous. Argentina coach Diego Maradona faced Germany in the two biggest games between the nations. In 1986 and 1990 these two countries contested the biggest game of all with Argentina crowned champions of the world in Mexico before Germany gained revenge in a bad tempered affair in Italy four years later.
Then, when the World Cup went to Germany in 2006 the sides met at the very stage at which they will clash tomorrow. It produced one of the more bizarre moments of the tournament. Germany won on penalties after a physical, niggly game and tensions turned into farcical violence. The following 20-odd man brawl saw Leandro Cufre plant a kick to the groin of Per Mertersacker and a Benny Hill style chase involving Maxi Rodriquez.
This week, the war of words began early when German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger claimed the South American’s “lack respect” while captain Phillip Lahm called them “bad losers”. Unsurprisingly Maradona couldn’t keep quiet, mocking Schweinsteiger with an interesting attempt at a German accent in a press conference before referring to Thomas Müller as a “ballboy”.
This would lead one to suspect that the upcoming game could be another dominated by ill feeling. That however would only detract from what otherwise promises to be a wonderful spectacle. Both sides are in a rich vein of form and have line-ups packed full of attacking talent. A game featuring Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Juan Veron on one side and Mezut Özil, Müller and Schweinsteiger on the other should be wonderfully entertaining.
Question marks remain as to the defensive solidity of both sides too. This should be a game full of goalscoring chances. The trio of Messi, Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain is really hitting form while England fans do not need reminding of the threat posed by Müller, Özil, Lukas Podolski and World Cup goal machine Miroslav Klose.
Maradona has taken the pressure off his players and encouraged them to go out and enjoy playing in this tournament. They seem to love him for it and will not curb their desire to attack this weekend.
“It would be a sin to change with these players we have. We’re going to attack Germany. I have a barbarian group, who have been playing an incredible way in training” Maradona said.
The circus the coach generates has allowed the players to escape as much analysis. To most outsiders this is the Maradona and Messi show and that has given the likes of Higuain, Veron, Tevez and Angel di Maria the right to go about their game with relative anonymity. Good players playing with a freedom created in this way are sure to be dangerous.
Striker Cacau could miss out for Germany but would have probably had to settle for a place on the bench anyway. Miroslav Klose will win his 100th cap and is now just three goals short of Ronaldo’s World Cup Finals record. Germany look shaky at the back with Jerome Boateng operating unnaturally at left back and Mertersacker and Arne Friedrich failing to inspire confidence from centre half. In attack however they have been scintillating.
This is a young team who showed in the group defeat to Serbia that they can be inconsistent but they have the potential to push Argentina all the way.
Lionel Messi (Argentina) – Who else? Messi is finally stamping his authority on the national side and seems to be revelling in the freedom given to him by Maradona. His mere presence creates space for others too.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany) – Schweinsteiger has been excellent in a new, deeper role with all German Attacks seeming to flow through him. How he copes with the defensive side of the game will be crucial in this tie. He cannot allow any time and space for Messi or Veron to pick the defence apart.