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Golden oldies set the tone for rare weekend classics

india Updated: Jun 29, 2006 12:57 IST
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"Everybody who could be world champions are in the quarter-finals. It's going to be nice. You need nerves of steel to beyond this." In his throaty voice and in flawless English, Carlos Alberto Parreira summed up the situation. The big boys have stayed on to party.

Six of the eight quarter-finalists are World Cup winners and seven of them have played in the semi-finals. Not many come this far, Marcello Lippi said on Monday after Australia paid the penalty. By weekend, two former champions will be homeward bound. On Friday, either Germany or Argentina will go out and one day later, there will be a battle for survival between Brazil and France.

The round of eight is such a closely-knit group that Spain, a country with one of the world's strongest leagues and whose clubs now rule Europe, have again been denied entry by Frank Riberry and a group of bald or balding daddies who have finally been able to roll back the years. "That's another World Cup gone, another major tournament we let slip away," Iker Casillas said.

In Hanover on Tuesday, Zinedine Zidane was like old wine, his sublime display climaxing in a 92nd minute goal after setting up France's second eight minutes earlier; Patrick Vieira uncorked a vintage performance and after stopping Spain's 25-match unbeaten run, everything in bleu, according to Thierry Henry, is now smelling of team spirit.

Bring on the Brazilians. So what if even after 10 goals and only one against, both Kaka and Gilberto Silva feel that the samba is far from perfect yet.   
In such august company, Ukraine seem like babes in the woods. If they do a South Korea, Italy should extend their stay at their Duisborg base camp till things cool down. Ukraine are the only team in the octet which has lost a match, the 0-4 drubbing from Spain making them the third country in World Cup history to survive such humiliation.

Portugal too haven't had it this good since 1966 but the golden generation that emerged in the 90s has done enough since to deserve a befitting swansong. And of history repeating itself. 

For that, they will have to change a bit of history first because next up are England who conquered Eusebio's team 40 years ago. Sven Goran Eriksson has kept his record of taking England to at least the quarter-finals of every major tournament under him though the team's performance has been described back home as "queasy".

With Italy playing Ukraine before England meet Portugal, at least two of the semi-finalists will be from Europe, the home of organised football, and that's in keeping with this continent's tradition of dominance every time it has hosted a World Cup finals. At least for the last 24 years.

No team from South America had stayed on till the penultimate round in 1982, only one survived in 1990 and again in 1998. This time there could be two though given the great expectations on the hosts -- it keeps getting greater with every round -- Germany isn't betting on it.

"We are a football nation. Even a quarter-final exit would be disastrous." Juergen Klinsmann's recent statement has found an echo in his homeland three months after the coach was being lambasted even in parliament for a 1-4 friendly loss to Italy.

It doesn't matter that Germany haven't beaten Argentina in their last three matches including the Confederations Cup. It doesn't matter that the match is being played four years to the day they lost the World Cup. The country is only looking at positives.

"We won the European Championships exactly 10 years ago, didn't we," Germans counter. Oliver Bierhoff, star of Euro '96 and now a co-architect of the German football revival, accepts that Argentina have been the best team on view so far but feels, "we can beat Argentina, we are playing at home". Simple.

Marco Materazzi, Costinha and Deco will wait with bated breath to see if they survive their suspensions and still play a part in this competition which takes its only break after 19 days and 56 matches. Again on a yellow card, Zidane knows that feeling well enough and he has former Real Madrid mate Luis Figo for company. The draw has panned out beautifully with each of the eight groups being represented. Raul, Casillas, Didier Drogba, Henrik Larsson, Freddie Ljungberg, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Edwin van der Sar and Pavel Nedved have gone home but most of the stars are still around. Some like Zidane, Figo, and Alessandro del Piero will twinkle for one last time this summer.

Get ready for some weekend classics.

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