Of all the great FIFA World Cup™ fixtures, Germany v England is one of the games guaranteed to captivate the entire footballing world.
Laden with a rich and tumultuous history, the match has featured some of the true legends of the game. Franz Beckenbauer and Bobby Moore were the towering personalities in England's sole FIFA World Cup™ triumph to date, at Wembley in the 1966 Final. Gerd Muller fired the extra-time winner when West Germany came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 in the quarter-finals four years later in Mexico. The Germans prevailed on penalties in the Italy 1990 semi-finals, before going on to claim their third world crown. This time round, Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein provides the setting for the latest instalment in an enduring rivalry, which many on both sides would doubtless have preferred to see played later in the competition.
Germany's young team won Group D after a rollercoaster ride through the section. The critics were purring after a scintillating 4-0 victory over Australia, but a 1-0 defeat by Serbia brought the team back to earth with a bump. As it turned out, a deserved 1-0 victory over Ghana ultimately saw Die Nationalmannschaft through. As for England, the squad arrived in South Africa bristling with stars at the zenith of their careers, all of them determined to make up for past disappointments on the international stage. However, seemingly cramped by the weight of expectation, Fabio Capello's men scrambled to second spot in Group C with a crucial 1-0 win against Slovenia in their final match, following a 1-1 draw with USA and a frustrating stalemate against Algeria.
Both teams will take heart from weathering a crisis at the finals. Germany and England are fired up and confident of removing the first major obstacle on their path to glory. In public at least, both camps are professing delight at crossing swords so early in the knockout stages: a keen sense of anticipation and history in the making is, we are told, the dominant emotion. However, both Germany boss Joachim Low and his England counterpart Capello face potential selection difficulties. Bastian Schweinsteiger, a revelation so far in front of the Germany back four, is rated highly doubtful with injury, as is full-back Jerome Boateng. Striker Cacau is definitely out after rupturing a stomach muscle in training, but Miroslav Klose returns from suspension. For England, Wayne Rooney has lost form at the wrong time and is also carrying a knock on the ankle, as are Aaron Lennon and Michael Carrick.
Players to watch
Philipp Lahm v Steven Gerrard
The Bayern Munich and Liverpool men are unlikely to go head-to-head very often during the match, as Lahm operates wide on the Germany right and Gerrard, though he may be asked to play on the left, prefers to go through the middle. But both captains will be required to keep cool and show genuine leadership qualities when the emotional temperature inevitably starts to rise. Each must fire his troops up to the right level of intensity and determination without pushing matters to boiling point. This is a real test for the rookies, as both Lahm and Gerrard are wearing the armband for the first time at a major tournament as they deputise for injured duo Michael Ballack and Rio Ferdinand respectively.
27 – The number of times Germany and England have met in full internationals over the years according to FIFA's statistics. The Three Lions have won 12 and the Germans ten – though Germany have also triumphed on penalties in two matches which ended as draws after extra time.
What they said
"It would be a terrible mistake to underestimate them just because they had a few problems in their group. They may well raise their game for the knockout matches. We have no need to be in awe, and we certainly have no reason to fear them. We respect them of course, but we're not afraid," Lukas Podolski, Germany striker.
"I think we can go all the way this time. I've never felt it like this before in other tournaments. I thought it was an excellent performance against Slovenia and we can't wait to get to grips with Germany," Joe Cole, England midfielder.