Argentina's larger-than-life coach Diego Maradona thinks that his players can win the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ if they show the form that saw them beat fellow favourites Germany 1-0 on Wednesday.
"I am very happy because my players were so committed. They fulfilled my expectations. After 24 years Argentina needs the title, and playing at this standard we can do it," Maradona said. "It was a tough game, but we showed that we are a great team, one of the best in the world," he added. "God willing, we are going to give our people a good World Cup."
Ninety-nine days before South Africa 2010, the clash found "El Diez" under pressure after the 1978 and 1986 winners - the latter victory over the then West Germany virtually singlehandedly delivered by Maradona - came within a whisker of not qualifying and for his use of over 100 different players.
After 24 years Argentina needs the title, and playing at this standard we can do it.
But his side outshone Germany on Wednesday, leaving the home side, which in contrast to Argentina had looked solid in qualification, looking like the one needing to go back to the drawing board. "Mistakes get punished at this level," said Germany trainer Joachim Low, assistant coach when Germany beat Argentina in a penalty shootout in the 2006 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals.
"Argentina really was a very, very strong team with lots of strong individual players. We didn't manage to build up pressure today, to make use of chances."
After a slow start as the teams sized each other up, it was Argentina who looked the more dangerous of the two sides, led from the front by Barcelona star Lionel Messi, FIFA's World Player of Year. In the 38th minute, Angel di Maria dribbled his way past a sea of German defenders to fire off a shot.
Germany 'keeper Rene Adler, fresh from being named Germany's first-choice goalie for the FIFA World Cup this week, pulled off a spectacular save, deflecting the ball onto the woodwork. But then just before the break, disaster struck for the Germans with a slip-up from Adler, who plays for high-flying Bundesliga outfit Bayer Leverkusen, that suddenly made his selection look not quite so shrewd.
Adler sprinted out of his goal to intercept the ball from a fast-approaching Gonzalo Higuain, but the Real Madrid star won the challenge, rounded the 'keeper and tapped into the open goal. The Germans looked in better nick in the second half, winning more possession and creating more pressure in the opponents' half, but it was to no avail as the visitors held firm.
Germany's best chances came though Cacau, who has been on sparkling form in the Bundesliga, with shots in the 77th and 83rd minutes, the second a half-volley which whistled over the crossbar. "Our mistake was not to take more risks up front," said Germany captain Michael Ballack, sporting a black eye from Chelsea's recent UEFA Champions League defeat to Inter Milan.
Argentina is drawn against Nigeria, Korea Republic and Greece in the FIFA World Cup. Germany will face Ghana, Serbia and Australia.