Germany have not been spared the hefty assignments on their route through this FIFA World Cup™, and six days after seeing off England 4-1 they find themselves up against an Argentina team bristling with ambition.
The two sides come face to face for the sixth time at this level, having locked horns notably in the 1986 and 1990 Finals, and with three wins, a draw and a solitary defeat from those encounters, Die Nationalmannschaft will be confident of prevailing once again. For Germany, this is their 15th consecutive quarter-final appearance but they can expect a testing assignment against an Albiceleste side determined to have their say.
After these two global titans have left the stage, the final last-eight game at South Africa 2010 will pit European champions Spain against obdurate South American opposition in Paraguay, who have leaked just one goal since the start of the tournament. Italy went all the way to the Trophy in 2006 with just a single goal conceded but can Paraguay really shut out the Spanish?
Argentina-Germany, Cape Town, 16.00
Paraguay-Spain, Johannesburg (Ellis Park), 20.30
The big game
Four years on from being forced to settle their quarter-final on penalties, Argentina and Germany meet again at the same stage of the competition. The context is different this time, with Joachim Low's men playing with great understanding and winning over neutrals everywhere with their slick, forward-thinking play. The injection of fresh talent epitomised by Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller has yielded fruit, with the support of more senior stalwarts such as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose. This may be the youngest squad Germany have taken to a FIFA World Cup in 76 years, but Low's emerging stars are more than ready and already boast plenty of experience with their clubs.
As for Argentina, there is a familiar look to their line-up, with two tireless holding midfielders shielding their defence, a diminutive genius waving his wand to build attacks and a rich seam of gifted marksmen vying for places further forward. Add in the unrivalled charisma of coach Diego Maradona and you have an ambitious, talented side determined to lift the Trophy for a third time – with Germany simply the next obstacle to be overcome.
Justo Villar v Spain's forwards
Life has been good for Paraguay goalkeeper Villar in South Africa so far, with only outgoing champions Italy able to find the back of his net in four outings. The 33-year-old might just be starting to feel a twinge of anxiety, though, as he prepares to be reacquainted with some familiar faces from the Spanish Liga. Villar has served between the sticks for Real Valladolid since 2008 and last season shipped no fewer than 13 goals against Barcelona and Valencia, with David Villa registering twice and both Xavi Hernandez and Pedro also scoring.
Those experiences will have steeled him for what looks set to be another busy encounter, between a Paraguay side preferring to keep things tight at the back and wait for openings and the one-touch, pass-and-move specialists Spain, whose attacking potential is second to none. Just thinking about it would be enough to give some goalkeepers a migraine.
What they said
"I lost my bet [with Maradona] because I didn't score, but my intention now is to offer him double or nothing," Lionel Messi, Argentina forward.
Fishy business: Since the start of the tournament, Germany fans have been tuned into events at the aquarium in Oberhausen, where an octopus named Paul has become a national sensation. Before each Germany game, two boxes filled with food and decorated in the colours of the two teams concerned are placed at the bottom of Paul's tank and he is then left to choose between them. Having predicted all three of Die Nationalmannschaft’s wins as well as their loss to Serbia, his record so far is perfect, but ahead of the last-eight meeting with Argentina he hesitated for 45 minutes before plumping for Germany. What could it possibly mean? The experts are still scratching their heads.
Gunning for goals: Gonzalo Higuain of Real Madrid and David Villa of Barcelona could well cross paths in the semi-finals should Argentina and Spain advance, but neither man need await that chance to outshine his counterpart. The two predators are currently tied on four strikes apiece – along with Slovakia's Robert Vittek, who has already packed his bags – and both will be hungry to streak ahead in the race for the adidas Golden Boot. In Villa's case, the Spain forward has already made history by becoming La Roja's top scorer at the FIFA World Cup, his total of seven efforts putting him ahead of five-goal quartet Emilio Butragueno, Fernando Hierro, Fernando Morientes and Raul.
Counting cards: For the first time in FIFA World Cup history, players on yellow cards will have the slate wiped clean after the quarter-finals. Previously, accumulated yellow cards were wiped after the end of the group phase, which failed to prevent Argentina's Claudio Caniggia and Germany's Michael Ballack missing the Finals in 1990 and 2002 respectively after picking up bookings at the semi-final stage. Red cards will still incur a suspension, however.