Germany face Argentina on Saturday in a re-run of the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals. Almost exactly four years on, German fans in particular have nothing but fond memories of the match, won 4-2 on penalties by the hosts. Jens Lehmann was the centre of attention that day, saving two spot-kicks.
Much was made of the Germany keeper's curious behaviour during the shoot-out. As each Argentina penalty-taker came forward to place the ball on the spot, Lehmann reached for a slip of paper tucked into his shin-pad and consulted it before their kick. The handwritten note, it later emerged, bore hints as to each taker's penalty preferences. The celebrated scribble was later auctioned for charity.
Prior to Saturday's showdown, FIFA.com spoke exclusively to Lehmann. The 40-year-old, who hung up his gloves at the end of last season, discussed the quarter-final, Germany's performances so far, and his personal memories of 2006.
FIFA.com: We've had 56 matches at the FIFA World Cup so far. What's your assessment of the finals?
Jens Lehmann: A very positive one. We've seen a few good matches and a few disappointing ones, obviously. But that's normal at a huge tournament like this.
Four of the eight quarter-finalists are South American, and only three European. How would explain that?
It's hard to pinpoint the reasons. Perhaps the South Americans are simply hungrier. Italy and France were incredibly disappointing, but Spain and Germany are still in the running, and they're the two best teams in Europe, as they showed at EURO 2008.
Are Germany and Spain good enough to win the FIFA World Cup?
Both could win it, in my opinion. The chance is there, especially for Germany. Argentina and potential semi-final opponents Spain both have more experience, but Germany are the classic tournament team. The experience of the two coaches could be the decisive factor. Germany versus Brazil would obviously make a great final. I rate the Brazilians higher than the Netherlands, although a final against the Dutch would be much more interesting.
Argentina are a very good team, but Germany are fitter and their coaching staff have more experience
Given the loss of Simon Rolfes, Rene Adler and especially Michael Ballack to injury, many commentators were uncertain how Germany would perform. As it is, they've hit the headlines. Are you surprised?
I'm certainly surprised by the football Germany have played. There's been some great stuff, especially against Australia and England, when they were really impressive.
Speaking to FIFA.com, Lothar Matthaus said the absence of Ballack had actually benefitted Germany. Would you agree?
You can't really say that after the event. If you lose your captain, it's always the case that the burden and responsibility has to be shared by a number of individuals. [Philipp] Lahm and [Bastian] Schweinsteiger have done that outstandingly well so far. At the end of the day, it may genuinely have done the younger players good. They're freed from thinking they've always got to be passing to their leader out on the field.
What was your first thought when Germany and Argentina qualified to face each other?
I was thrilled. Every football fan looks forward to this kind of clash, a fixture which rouses whole nations.
And what do you think will happen?
Argentina are a very good team, but Germany are fitter. The German coaching staff also have more experience of the tournament, which is a disadvantage for Argentina.
What are your memories of facing Argentina in 2006?
They're only happy ones, I'm glad to say. It was a dramatic game in an incredible setting, and fortunately it ended well for us.
The famous slip of paper is what many fans remember the most. Did you ever think it would spark so much interest?
Never in a million years. I was going to throw it in the bin afterwards, but I had second thoughts. 'It'll be a nice souvenir for my kids' was what crossed my mind.
If it goes to penalties again, should Manuel Neuer produce his own slip of paper, if only to put his opponents off?
Definitely. If it comes to a shoot-out, Andreas Kopke will certainly have his notes at the ready and will pass them on. There was no psychological background to my note. I didn't pick up fast enough on who was taking the penalties anyway. At the end of the day, Neuer has to choose a corner for himself.
Would it make the takers nervous if Neuer produced a slip of paper?
I certainly hope so! Maybe there's something to simply pulling out a note, and the takers might start thinking 'Oh Lord, here we go again'. Maybe it'll be enough to beat Argentina.
What do you think of Diego Maradona the coach?
As far as I can tell, Maradona has an extremely good relationship with his players. He's one of the greatest players in history, so his men will trust him completely. You've got two factors coming together, him and the individual class in his team. What he lacks is the tactical and technical maturity of the German coaching staff. Maradona is more of a figurehead and motivator.
Like Jurgen Klinsmann in 2006?
No, that's often unfairly levelled at Jurgen Klinsmann. Obviously, his motivational skills were required at the tournament, and he was outstanding in that respect. But he prepared us perfectly for each match and took all the right selection decisions for every position.
Turning to your personal future, you're here in South Africa as a TV pundit, but what comes next?
There's nothing planned as yet. I only finished playing a few weeks ago, and I'm now working for TV here at the World Cup. I'm going on holiday for a month or two with my family, and we'll see what happens after that. I might see about qualifying as a coach, but I'll take it as it comes.