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"We have to show we can finally beat a big team," said Philipp Lahm. The German captain wasn‘t wrong, though the English would certainly hold it up as an example of the arrogance of which we assume is just beneath the surface of the stereotype. Ironically, this is also a standpoint that seems to be felt across South America towards their opponents on Saturday. "How many Argentinians," goes the hoary old joke, "can you fit in a Mini? Well, first you have to deflate them."
Cape Town's majestic Green Point Stadium will witness the next chapter in an increasingly fascinating and highly charged story of two countries that between them have won the World Cup five times (with one win each in the finals of ´86 and ´90) and had a massive barney after Germany prevailed on penalties in the quarter final four years ago at the Olympiastadion, Berlin. Per Mertesacker, who will be partnering the new Wolfsburg signing Arne Friedrich again at the back this time, will certainly remember that game as Leandro Cufré launched himself at his balls in the undignified denoument earning himself a post, er, coital red card.
Argentina will certainly be trying to wind up the inexperienced Germans as much as possible, knowing that Friedrich, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller, Sami Khedira and Lahm are all already on yellow cards and would miss a likely semi final with Spain should any of them pick up another. As an Englishman, far be it for me to say the Argentinians and their irrepressible manager are cheats, but I‘m sure the memories of Jürgen Klinsmann rolling around like he‘d been shot in the final of Italia ´90 will stick with Maradona and serve as a little extra needle should it need to be introduced.
I‘m being harsh on El Diego, his presence has been a joy to behold at this World Cup - and his, frankly mental, press conferences have been as unmissable and irresistible as his playing career was. And he‘s definitely not gay. The charge levelled at him so often - and most recently by his nemesis Pelé - that he has no sense of tactics and management falls apart slightly when you consider that he‘s got his winning boss from ´86, Carlos Bilardo, as his general manager by his side.
Friedrich and Mertesacker, Lahm and Jerome Boateng will certainly have their hands full against the likes of Messi, Higuain and Tevez, with the possible introductions of highly rated Angel DiMaria, Sergio Aguerro and the living legend that is Martin Palermo (I‘m only half joking with that one) and Özil will quickly find out that facing Javier Mascherano wil be a bit trickier than the lumbering, leaden-footed Gareth Barry, who gave the young Gelesenkirchner as much space to play in as a leper in a school playground last Sunday.
There is hope for Germany. If they can keep their heads then goals can be scored against Argentina. Martin Demichelis is a long way off world class and Gabi Heinze‘s best days are definitely behind him. Key will be managing to get the ball back off Juan Sebastián Verón who completed only one pass less than the entire Greece team when they met in the group stages. They just have to stay cool. Lahm‘s comments about Argentina being bad losers won‘t help much, and the press seem to be happy to create a spat between the Bayern teammates Schweinsteiger and Demichelis after Schweini's "disrespectful" quotes.
It shouldn‘t be as dreadful as that final in Rome, this one, and for the neutral, it‘s a dream come true. It is only the English press who will be gutted that they can‘t both lose.
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