Argentina and Germany set off for the World Cup with huge doubts about their prospects but they meet in Saturday's quarterfinal in hot form.A war of words has erupted ahead of the match with Germany’s players accusing the Argentines of lacking respect and Diego Maradona talking of revenge for an unsavoury defeat on penalties at the same stage of the last World Cup.
Yet, when his team suffered a 6-1 humiliation by Bolivia and back-to-back defeats by Brazil and Paraguay, the fans despaired of even qualifying for the finals and Maradona was vilified for his scattergun selection policy.
Argentina eventually scraped through but after being outplayed by Spain in a November friendly, few considered them one of the main contenders in South Africa.
Yet despite, or maybe because of, the manic exhortations of their iconic leader, they have put together nine successive victories to emerge as the team everyone wants to avoid.
Maradona has produced a happy, settled squad and has shown excellent man-management skills. Lionel Messi has been a constant threat but, while awaiting his first goal, those around him have come good with Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez netting six of their tournament-leading 10.
Jonas Gutierrez could come in on the left for Angel Di Maria to add attacking width against Germany with Juan Sebastian Veron back to form a stable midfield base alongside Javier Mascherano. “We have to try to find the best team, the ‘gala team’ to play against Germany,” said Maradona.
Their meeting at the last World Cup, when Germany reached the semi-finals after winning on penalties in a game that ended in an unseemly brawl, has been to the fore this week with Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger stoking the fires. “If you see how they gesticulate, how they try to influence the referee... that is not part of the game, that is a lack of respect,” he said.
Maradona responded by asking: “What's the matter with you, Schweinsteiger, are you nervous? We don't have time to think about Schweinsteiger. The players are thinking about going onto the pitch, in getting their revenge.”