The reunion of old rivals England and Germany and the meeting of Latin American hopefuls Argentina and Mexico will have football fans fixated on the second day of the Round of 16 at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
The two European giants could not have foreseen crossing paths so early in the competition, but England’s second-place finish in Group C denied them a supposedly more straightforward route. Neither side have been at their authoritative best so far and both had to roll up their sleeves to advance, though Germany look to have successfully integrated fresh young talent from last year’s European U-21 Championship-winning team. For England, coach Fabio Capello has slightly relaxed his usual disciplined approach but will again look to his senior players to deliver victory. No longer gripped by the fear of falling at the group stage, the two contenders are now free to serve up a feast of drama and tension, with one of Europe’s biggest names falling by the wayside at the final whistle.
Argentina coach Diego Maradona took time settling into his new role but has succeeded in communicating his message to a squad devoted to his leadership and obviously enjoying life in South Africa. Drawing on his own experiences as a player, Maradona handed the captain’s armband to Lionel Messi ahead of the Mexico game, and his diminutive genius is looking increasingly at ease in an Argentina shirt, but Mexico boast their finest ever generation of players and will do anything but roll over.
Germany-England, Mangaung/Bloemfontein, 16.00 (local time)
Argentina-Mexico, Johannesburg (Soccer City), 20.30 (local time)
The big game
Any game between these traditional powers brings guaranteed fascination, even when neither team can claim to be at their best. England struck just twice in their one win and two draws during group duties yet remain desperate to prove they can still go all the way, but it will take a lot more fluid movement and efficiency in front of goal for them to survive beyond the weekend. The pressure to improve weighs heaviest on Wayne Rooney as he is clearly not in optimum form, however he will have noted that this Germany team can look vulnerable at the back. Joachim Low’s men made light work of Australia in a 4-0 success only to lose 1-0 to Serbia in their next outing before labouring to a slender 1-0 victory over Ghana. Die Nationalmannschaft’s youngest FIFA World Cup squad in 76 years boasts obvious potential nonetheless, with Mesut Ozil stepping in spectacularly for the injured Michael Ballack, and they will be keen to show they can be every bit as ruthless as their illustrious forebears in the business end of the competition.
Lionel Messi (ARG) v Rafael Marquez (MEX)
Four years and four days after meeting at the same stage of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Argentina and Mexico will renew acquaintances for a place in the last eight. La Albiceleste prevailed 2-1 after extra time in Leipzig courtesy of a superb goal from Maxi Rodriguez, with Messi marking his 19th birthday by entering the fray on 84 minutes. The youngster will be Argentina’s primary attacking threat this time around, operating in a free role behind a pair of strikers, but he will have to contend with the attentions of his friend and Barcelona team-mate Marquez. A defensive midfielder for Los Aztecas, the 31-year-old will be in miserly mood, and the outcome of their personal duel will doubtless have a massive impact on the final result.
What they said
"I saw the England that I know again. We can now look forward to the rest of the competition with a little more calm. The players and staff are relaxed and now it’s time to focus on the last 16,” Fabio Capello, England coach.
Presidential promise: The presidential box has long been the place to watch a FIFA World Cup encounter, but since the start of South Africa 2010 the best seats in the house have been packed with even more famous faces than usual. A long list of American political heavyweights have made the long trip to take in a sport increasingly popular back home, with former President Bill Clinton following in Vice-President Joe Biden’s footsteps by watching the Stars and Stripes defeat Algeria 1-0. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, current President Barack Obama has promised to take a seat next to FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter if the United States make their way through to the Final.
On or over? The subject never fails to come up every time the two sides lock horns. Did Geoff Hurst’s shot cross the line at the start of extra time during the FIFA World Cup Final on 30 July 1966? The debate still rages 44 years on, although England fans point out that the same player then scored again to seal a 4-2 win and England’s solitary global title. For Germany supporters, in contrast, the moment has entered the lexicon of the game, with a ‘Wembley Tor’ referring to a contentious goal. Expect the commentators to again revive one of the most controversial strikes of all time before kick-off in Mangaung/Bloemfontein.
Penalty claims: France, England, the Netherlands and Portugal have never missed a penalty during FIFA World Cup play, with Les Bleus converting nine, England and the Oranje eight apiece, and the Portuguese six. David Villa’s missed spot-kick against Honduras was Spain’s first failure in 14 attempts, the most one side have been awarded. Oddly enough, the two most titled teams – Brazil and Italy – have missed the most, both converting just eight of their 11 penalties. Portugal’s Eusebio (1966), Rob Rensenbrink of the Netherlands (1978) and Argentina’s Gabriel Batistuta (1994 and 1998) are the only players to have scored four.