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First among equals

sports Updated: Jul 07, 2010 02:26 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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There are many big names that can influence a semi-final clash between multiple World Cup winners and the reigning European champions. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Xavi could be the first among equals. Xavi Hernandez | Bastian Schweinsteiger | Klose eyes feat

Argentina caught ‘Schwine’ flu and exited at the quarter-finals because of an imperious performance by a German who, having been pushed out wide for long, is now enjoying playing central midfielder. For this, Schweinsteiger thanks Louis van Gaal, his coach at Bayern Munich.

“I think the biggest change for me personally is that at last I’ve been allowed to play in my best position. I’d always had a hard time before with coaches feeling that other players — like Jens Jeremies, Niko Kovacs, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Ballack – had a better claim on that position. So, of course, I’m grateful to Van Gaal,” said the 25-year-old, in his second World Cup.

In the quarter-final, Schwe-insteiger not only reined in Lionel Messi, prompting the Argentine wizard to fall back deep into his own half, he also bulldozed past three Argentine challenges to set up the third goal. And it was off his free-kick that Thomas Mueller put Germany ahead in the third minute.

“Bastian’s responsibility for the team was noticeable from the moment we were at the Tyroltraining camp. He’s matured tremendously over the last few years and, aided by his success at Bayern Munich, it’s turned him, if you like, into a real grown up.” Germany coach Joachim Loew’s words show how far he has come from being Bayern’s enfant terrible.

Like his coach, Schwein-steiger thinks Spain are the best team in the world but he said Germany have improved a lot since the final of the European championships and if they can get the tactics right a berth in the final is possible. Everyone must chip in for that to happen, he said.

Five years older and five inches shorter, Xavi doesn’t have Schweinsteiger’s beefy presence. But he is a template, a reference point in how to organise the midfield.

Talking about Juan Veron, Argentina coach said “he is my Xavi, irreplaceable”.
Xavi’s silken style plays an important part in the engine room that runs Spain and Barcelona and it was his immediate reaction against Paraguay that freed Andres Iniesta to set up David Villa for the match-winner. His passing accuracy and vision will impact how Spain play on Wednesday.

Loew said keeping Iniesta and Xavi in check would be crucial. “They’ve played together for a long time at Barcelona, that’s what makes the difference. But if we get on top of them and put them under pressure as we did with Messi that will be the key to the match”.

Surely, Xavi knows that. He respects the Germany midfield too but on Wednesday, he would like to show that good things indeed come in small packages.

“We have already made history, but we are not settling for that, we need to reach the finals and win. We have a fantastic generation to achieve this and we will play to our strengths and give everything. The imp-ortant thing is to score and we should take advantage of (David) Villa's form,” he said.