Monday, April 22, 2024

‘Final’ before the final


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CAPE TOWN – After all the trash talking between Germany and Argentina comes the World Cup quarter-final that has all the makings of a final.Forwards Lionel Messi of Argentina and Lukas Podolski of Germany returned to training on the eve of the match, raising hopes both teams could be at their best.Messi, the world’s greatest player, recovered from a slight cold and “participated in a normal manner in all the scheduled exercises” in Pretoria, team spokesman Andres Ventura said. And Podolski also joined his teammates for a leisurely outing at Green Point Stadium.For all the sweet moves of Messi and Germany’s Mesut Oezil, the wild push-kick-and-shove melee at the end of Germany’s penalty shootout quarter-final victory over Argentina four years ago is still fresh in the mind.Over the past days, Germany started the mudslinging, and did so with their renowned thoroughness, calling their opponents anything from “impulsive” to “temperamental” and bad losers.And coach Joachim Loew certainly didn’t berate his players for lashing out.“There is freedom of speech,” he said yesterday, adding that the Argentine players happily explore “the limits of legality”.If anything, Loew said, it shows that Germany “has no lack of respect for Argentina”.Coach Maradona has dismissed much of it. “The boys are thinking about getting out on the pitch and getting revenge for 2006,” Maradona said.The point that could well bother Maradona is that playmaker Oezil and strikers like Thomas Mueller and Miroslav Klose, who is likely to win his 100th cap, could put defenders like Martin Demichelis in trouble like they have never seen at this World Cup.More importantTo hold off the pressure, the role of Messi becomes all the more important.A picture on the Argentines’ official website of yesterday’s closed training session showed Messi moving freely on the pitch, going for a ball together with Juan Sebastian Veron.The team watched videos of Germany and analysed their previous matches before training in Pretoria. The players also practised penalties in case it comes to penalty shootout.Even if he has not scored yet himself, the Barcelona forward has been instrumental in running up Argentina’s 10-2 goal tally with probing runs and crisp passing.On top of that, Loew knows the depth of the Argentina team. “Their forward line is not Messi alone. There is [Carlos] Tevez, and there are many players who can decide the game.”Argentina have in Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain a striker on form who shares the lead in the scoring with four goals from the three matches he played. If he fails, Tevez proved with a double strike in the 3-1 second-round win over Mexico that he can also easily step in.After running England ragged in a superb 4-1 victory of creativity and speed, Germany enter the game with some question marks.Podolski will undergo a late test before Loew will be able to call on him.“If he fails the test, then we will have to look at another solution,” Loew said. “I have no fear when a player is out. I have no worries. There is a good balance in the team.” (AP)


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