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Germany, Argentina aiming for sky

Vying to enter quarters, the two take on Sweden and Mexico respectively.

india Updated: Jun 24, 2006 23:18 IST

Germany ground to a halt on Saturday to watch the host nation attempt to reach the quarter-finals at the expense of Sweden as the World Cup moved into the knockout stage.

Germany were kicking off in Munich at 2030 IST (1500 GMT), cheered on by an estimated two million people in the streets of cities across the country, while Argentina were taking on Mexico in their second-death match in Leipzig at 0030 IST (1900 GMT).

The German team entered the World Cup under a cloud after a series of poor results and coach Jurgen Klinsmann's tactics were being questioned even by captain Michael Ballack.

But after three consecutive confidence-boosting victories, the three-time World Cup winners suddenly look like they might be able to mount a serious challenge.

With expectations raised, and millions of Germans enthusiastically backing his team, Klinsmann said he could not contemplate defeat against a well-organised Sweden team which held England to a 2-2 draw in the group stages.

"I'm convinced we will win this game. I can't imagine anything else," Klinsmann said.

"We have a lot of respect for Sweden. They have players operating at the top level with European clubs but we think we will come out on top.

"If we go behind we have the character and strength to bounce back if needed. The players know it's their tournament and their moment. We have been telling them to take it."

If Germany can get past Sweden, they will play the winner of Argentina's clash with Mexico.

The Argentinians have become many neutrals' favourites for their first global title for 20 years after producing brilliant attacking football to ease through the first round.

Their coach Jose Pekerman acknowledged that one error at this stage could send a team packing.

"Mistakes could cost dear," Pekerman said. "There's no going back.

"But Argentina has the potential to overcome this challenge. The team has great solidarity and confidence."

While Germany and Argentina were aiming for the sky, France just seemed relieved to have reached the last 16 after beating Togo 2-0 on Friday.

The 1998 winners avoided a repeat of their embarrassing first-round exit four years ago thanks to goals from Patrick Vieira and Thierry Heny but must now face one of the emerging teams of the tournament, Spain, on Tuesday.

South Korea's defeat to Switzerland ended Asia's hopes of having a single survivor in the second round, a setback for football on that continent after the euphoria generated when Japan and South Korea co-hosted the World Cup in 2002.

Meanwhile David Beckham said he was optimistic England were hitting their stride as they got ready for their last 16 game against Ecuador on Sunday.

"This time is the best chance I feel we've had for many years," said the captain.

But an old problem raised its head when around 100 England fans were detained in Stuttgart after rampaging through the city following a day of heavy drinking.