The battle resumes. The Anglo-German rivalry had been one of the defining aspects of the last century. Their battles on the field are often compared with the two world wars these countries fought. Fact is, Germany have never really considered England as a plausible rival. Their main rivals in Europe have always been Holland and Italy. The monumental gap between the two nations in terms of success is also notable.
The rivalry dates back to early ’30s and England held the upper hand in the rivalry for a long time. Germany didn’t manage to beat England before 1968. The last time England beat Germany (West Germany then) in world cup was back in their finest footballing hour. In the 1966 World Cup England won the trophy after a controversial final. Both the countries had one World Cup titles at that point. After ’66, Germany has gone on to collect two more world cup titles and three European titles. England couldn’t even reached the final of a single tournament since then.
In the ensuing years there have been some memorable encounters between them. In 1970 World Cup, England, despite missing Gordon Banks in goal, were leading 2-1 with just a few minutes to go. Germany came back after a mistake by the reserve ‘keeper Bonetti. The match was forced to extra-time; Gerd Muller scored his 9th goal of that World Cup to knock England out. Two years later, the Germans steamrolled England 3-1 in a Euro quarter final. The teams played out a 0-0 draw in Spain ’82. Germany held sway in next two games knocking England out in semi-finals in Italia ’90 and Euro ’96. The loss to Germany in 1990 world cup brought out the infamous Gary Linekar quote – “Football is a game played by 22 men, a round ball and always won by Germany”. In 2001, England got their finest victory in recent times when they vanquished Germany 5-1, in Munich. Though they lost the home leg 1-0, England still topped the qualifier group.
England’s form had been patchy in first two games, but now it looks to be on an upward swing. Their defence looks stable and haven’t conceded any goals till now (the blame for goal against USA is entirely Green’s). Rooney and Defoe combined well against Slovenia. Rooney and Lampard still haven’t found their form in South Africa, but they might just choose this game to get back to form. Milner played a solid game as left winger against Slovenia. He combined well with Ashley Cole on the left side. Overall England looked a stable and dominant team in their last group game.
Germany started off brilliantly against Australia with a 4-0 hammering. The second youngest team in this world cup was spearheaded by youth players like Mesut Ozil, Khedira, Muller and Badstuber. Captain Philip Lahm is still only 25. They were expected to win against Serbia. The game marred with harsh yellow cards, Germany were hurt badly when they lost the veteran striker Miroslav Klose and let in a goal moments after Klose’s expulsion. Podolski became the first German player to miss a penalty in 36 years as Germany lost 1-0.
They showed improvement against Ghana, but still don’t look convincing enough. The centre-back pairing of Mertesacker and Freidrich look error prone and there is a lack of communication at times. Badstuber’s poor game against Serbia cost him his first team slot as he was replaced by Boateng. The Boateng – Lahm combination might not work as well as Badstuber- Lahm combo. Germany are sweating on Schwinsteiger’s fitness. He is a key player in the absence of Ballack.
Germany will roll out a 4-2-3-1 and England will stick to 4-4-2. The key battle would be between Barry and Ozil in the middle of the park. Barry is yet to hit his peak form, while Ozil has easily been Germany’s best player till now. He finds a lot of space behind the strikers and links well with Podolski. Another important clash would be between Lahm and Ashley Cole, if Lahm plays as right-back. German goalie Neuer has often been prone to mistakes in set-pieces and he needs to be on top of his game against Lampard and Gerrard.
Franz Beckenbaur has already started the verbal battle. He termed England “kick and rush team” and “stupid”. Defoe has rubbished Der Kaizer’s allegations. This is the big one – two former world champions who have often sparred off the field. There is a lot of history between the two teams, expect a tight and tensed game.
World Cup Head to Head:
England 4-2 West Germany (1966, final)
England 2-3 West Germany (1970, quarter-final)
England 0-0 West Germany (1982, Round-2)
England 1(3)-1(4) West Germany (1990, semi-final)
World Cup win-loss stats:
Germany: Played 95, Won 57, Drawn 19, Lost 19
England: Played 58, Won 26, Drawn 19 Lost 13
Player to watch out for:
Wayne Rooney (England): The Manchester United hit man has not enjoyed best of forms in last 3 games. This is first time Rooney has not scored goals in 3 back to back games for England, since making his debut. He often rises to big occasions and there aren’t many bigger occasions than this match. He can return to form against a wobbly German central defence.
Argentina has been the best team in first round. They rarely looked troubled in their three round-robin games and never failed to score. Diego Maradona seems to have a full control of the dressing room and the South Americans have found their rhythm quickly.
But Argentina have often dwindled away after a solid start. Maradona’s biggest challenge will be to maintain the tempo. Korea, Greece and Nigeria, each of these teams had a special significance in Maradona’s career. His first world cup goal was against Korea in ’86, last goal was against Greece in ’94. His last ever game for Argentina was against Nigeria in ’94. Now he faces off against Mexico, the country where he rose to the zenith of his career, leading Argentina to their second World Cup win in 1986.
Argentina’s attack is easily one of the best in recent times. Crucially, almost all the players seem to have hit form quickly. Messi and Tevez haven’t scored yet, but these two players have been the pick of the strikers. Their mobility and movement off the ball has so far baffled opponents. After a disappointing first game, Higuain made amends with the first hat trick of this World Cup against Korea. Aguero has played important cameos after coming off the bench. Martin Palermo has notched up a goal already, despite playing just a few minutes. Only Diego Milito has been a disappointment so far.
Veron, Maxi Rodriguez and Mascherano all look good in the midfield. Maxi would look to retrace the pile driver he scored for his team against the same opponents four years ago. Angel Di Maria flourished against Korea, once he was pushed up into an advanced position.
Argentina’s only concern can be defence. It has rarely been tested and almost imploded under Korea’s few telling attacks in the 2nd game. Javier Gutierrez looks suspect with his timing and positional sense. Demichellis has made a poor mistake against Korea which led to Korea’s only goal of the match.
Argentina’s opponents would be worried about their defence even more. Mexico’s three man defence doesn’t seem to be working very well. They looked shaky against a spirited South Africa in the first game and could have easily lost the match. A hapless and dispirited France offered no resistance as Mexico won 2-0. Against the three man striker force of Uruguay, they were stretched for the very first minute. Uruguay’s goal came when all three strikers combined; it was too simple a goal to concede. A similar performance against the most potent attack in the world cup can see them lose by a tennis score.
Marquez needs to step up his game. He has struggled against swift players in La Liga for last two seasons. He will now come up against some of the fastest players in the game right now. Mexico’s biggest hope will rest on the youngsters Giovani dos Santos and Javi Hernandez. Captain Torrado has enjoyed a rich vein of form in last three games. Wily old fox Cuauhtémoc Blanco would add creativity as a super-sub. With his successful spot kick against France, Blanco created history by becoming the first Mexican to score in three world cups.
Javier Aguirre’s teams are known for their neat passing football. The last time he was the coach of Mexico in world cup, they put out a memorable 1-1 draw against Italy in first round. Marquez was the hero in that game as Mexico toyed with the Azzuris. Mexico will not sit back and they will try to exploit the defensive lapses of Argentina. Whatever might the outcome be, this game will not be drab.
World Cup Head to Head:
Argentina 6-3 Mexico (1930, first round)
Argentina 2-1 Mexico (2006, pre-quarter final)
World Cup win-loss stats:
Mexico: Played 45, Won 11, Drawn 12, Lost 22
Argentina: Played 67, Won 35, Drawn 13 Lost 19
Player to watch out for:
Lionel Messi (Argentina): The best player in the world has so far fulfilled his expectations. His coach had tipped Messi to do what he himself did in 1986. So far, he has looked good enough to fill those infinitely giant boots. The only thing that has been missing is a goal, he has been denied by posts & some excellent saves in all 3 games. Messi can very well do a Paolo Rossi in this world cup & score a bucket load of goals in knock out stages.