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The Cup Running Over


July 2, 2010 5:49 PM

Argentina-Germany Quarterfinal Preview: Tell Us Which Germany Shows Up and We'll Tell You Who Wins

In a Nutshell: On paper, a terrific, attacking game -- worthy of a final. The two teams played last Cup at the same stage. The game went to penalties at 1-1 and Germany won in a match that even featured a brawl.

Recent History: Other than the classic last time, the two have also played two finals. Argentina won the first in '86, 3-2; Germany (as West Germany) returned the favor four years later, 1-0.

What We Learned Last Game: The Argentinians have played the most consistent soccer at the tournament, outclassing four opponents along the way. Mexico wasn't much opposition in a 3-1 rout. The Germans crushed the English, showing once again that when they're on, there may not be a stronger team in the world today, especially on offense. Both benefited from terrible officiating calls, by the way, though both likely would have won going away anyway.


thomas-mueller.jpg
Germany's young Thomas Muller has been a revelation.




ARGENTINA


The Good News: The Argentinians have finally found a way to utilize Lionel Messi, albeit as a creator of goals rather than a scorer -- at least for now. He's still one of the few players in the world who can singlehandedly turn a game around by himself. Striker-winger Gonzalo Higuain has been a real threat too. Meanwhile, the defense has been solid and not prone to over-fouling -- a traditional problem for this team.

The Bad News: The keeper is subpar -- maybe the worst of the six left in the tournament. Maradona still insists on playing some old regulars such as Juan Sebastian Veron. The defense hasn't really faced a top-flight offensive team and may be exposed, particularly at right back where Jonas Gutierez is weak. And, in a close game, no one knows if Maradona has the tactical acumen to make the right changes.

Pedigree:
Two championships, with Maradona as the talisman. He was brought in to restore the magic to a team that hasn't gone past the quarterfinals since he played.

Player to Watch:
It's always Messi. But the keeper --  Sergio Romero -- bears watching for the opposite reason. 

Telling Stat:
Argentina has had five headed shots on target in this Cup. Four have gone in.

To Win:
Find a way to disrupt the Germans' all-star midfield, especially Mesut Ozil. That will primarily be Javier Mascherano's task. Strike accurately on the break. Avoid unnecessary fouls in the danger zone. And get the ball to Messi.


GERMANY


The Good News: When this team is on, it's devastating -- led by a young, virtually unstoppable midfield and Miroslav Klose -- the aging striker who somehow always manages to shine at the World Cup. Four goals against both Australia and England -- and they could have scored more.

The Bad News:
Inconsistency, typical of a young squad. When they're off -- such as in the games against Serbia and Ghana -- they're really off and have trouble scoring. The defense is not first-class. Mesut Ozil didn't show at practice two days ago, complaining he was sick and Lukas Podolski was kept out as a precaution. Backup striker Cacau is out. And the keeper, Manuel Neuer, has looked shaky at times.

Pedigree:
Along with Brazil, one of the two best. Three time winners, four times runner-ups, and three more semifinals. Second and third at the last two tournaments. One of the few teams for which losing at this point would be a disappointment.

Player to Watch: Twenty-one-year-old midfielder Ozil has been the spark plug of the team. Stop him and you can can at least slow down the Germans. 

Telling Stat:
Thomas Muller has been involved in more goals this tournament (six) than any other player.

To Win:
Prevent Messi from getting the ball as much as possible, since even when he's not a threat to score, he can set up other players. Control the midfield, where the Germans have a decided advantage. Test the Argentinean keeper -- he could crumble.


Prediction: On paper the two teams are even, so it comes down to tactics and moments of individual brilliance or their opposite, which is quite possible given two weak keepers -- the Achilles heels of these teams. Messi is the player most capable of brilliance though Ozil and Muller aren't exactly slouches. The question is which team can stop the other's play maker and which plays more consistently. On their day, the Germans look unbeatable. If the other Germany shows up, however, Argentina gets its revenge from last time.


If It Goes to Penalties: Who would bet against Germany, especially given its slight advantage at keeper? The only hesitancy is that this is a new type of German team, which even missed a penalty shot in its second game. If history holds, however, this is Germany's specialty -- four for four at World Cups. Argentina has lost only one shootout -- to Germany last time.

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