A certain starter at the heart of the defence for Diego Maradona’s Argentina, with a goal to his name here at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ and on the verge of playing a quarter-final against Germany, Martin Demichelis has certainly come a long way since he was omitted from La Albiceleste’s 23-man finals squad four years ago.
On the back of a fine season with German league and cup winners Bayern Munich, and a 100 per cent start to South Africa 2010 with Argentina, the rugged centre-back spoke exclusively to FIFA about La Albiceleste’s recent form, the expectations on their shoulders and meeting some familiar faces in Saturday’s last-eight clash.
FIFA: How would you assess your individual performance at the FIFA World Cup so far?
Martin Demichelis: My individual performance? I’m not a tennis player or a golfer. This is a team sport and so it’s impossible not to talk about the team as a whole. The squad’s been fantastic, with four wins from four games. How could we not be happy with that?
What has been the key to this success? And how has the team managed to turn things round since receiving such heavy criticism during qualifying?
Well, look at it this way, South American Zone qualifying is very tough - you only need to look at the quarter-final line-up here to see that half the teams come from our region. Both our style of play and Diego Maradona’s coaching ability came under fire, but we did have to get used to a change of coach, a new style and new players coming in. It wasn’t easy, but as soon as we sealed qualification the team grew in confidence and so did Diego. And since then we’ve been able to get on with the job without as much stress.
Do Argentina still have flaws to iron out?
So far we’ve dominated our games and only conceded two goals, but we’re hoping to tighten up even more at the back to make it harder for our opponents to score. On a personal note, it (making a mistake for Lee Chung-Yong’s goal in the 4-1 win over Korea Republic) was hard for me to swallow. We went on to win our second game and I was the only one who couldn’t savour it. I’m very self-critical and when I make mistakes it really gets to me. Fortunately, we won and I was able to make up for that error and boost my confidence with a goal (against Greece).
Let us turn to your next opponents, Germany. You play your club football there and know the country well, so can you tell us about the historical rivalry between the two teams?
When two national teams with such a rich pedigree go head-to-head you’d expect there to be rivalry, but we shouldn’t get carried away. I don’t think it’s a good idea to send out jibes via the press, so I prefer to save my energy and determination for the game, which is where players should do their talking.
That being the case, do you think the 1-0 friendly victory on German soil three months ago was an important statement of intent?
We just did what we needed to do. We controlled possession and the play. Germany are a team that don’t like not having the ball so that’s what we need to aim for. But of course we’ll have to be careful too, because they’ve got very good players like [Miroslav] Klose, [Lukas] Podolski, [Mesut] Ozil and [Thomas] Muller.
Muller is a team-mate of yours at Bayern Munich. What can you tell us about one of Germany’s biggest rising stars?
He’s a lad who came up through the youth system at the club and has battled to make his dreams come true. And that’s what happened to him this season after he got the chance to start for the first team. What’s more, he proved his physical fitness over the course of the whole year: there aren’t many players capable of playing every game. He also proved his nose for goal. He’s always threatening the opposition box and that’s where he’s lethal.
Finally, given the size of the challenge ahead, what more do you need to achieve to keep making history?
Well, to make it into the history books we need to reach the Final and win it. We’ve got a tough road ahead but we’re very close. I know how privileged I am and I really appreciate being here. It’s something I’ll never forget.