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World Cup 2010, Argentina Vs. Germany Preview: Reason To Be Nervous

Diego Maradona led Argentina to their second World Cup in Mexico 1986 where the current Argentina coach overcame  double-marking from West Germany to set-up the match-winning goal.

Four years later, Italia 1990’s final featured a rematch, with West Germany earning a head-shaking win after a 10-man Argentina was called for a dubious,late penalty, Andreas Brehme winning the World Cup for the Germans.

So it was that the Argentina-Germany rivalry calcified, though the lead-up to today’s quarterfinal between the teams has focused on a more recent match. Germany veterans Bastian Schweinstager and captain Philipp Lahm have each pointed to the teams’ meeting in the 2006 quarterfinals, won by Germany, with behavior by the Argentines after the match having Lahm label them bad losers, saying he hopes they react better when (not if) they lose today.

Argentina coach Diego Maradona responded by claiming Schweinsteiger and the Germans nervous. That’s easy for him to say, knowing he’ll be standing on the sidelines, though let’s face it: If Diego Maradona where playing today, the Germans would have reason to be nervous. But with Lionel Messi on the pitch today for Argentina, perhaps the Germans still do.

Argentina, Going Forward: Gonzalo Higuaín and Carlos Tévez will play in front of Messi, the reigning World Player of the Year a free, withdrawn role. In front of a three-man midfield, this leads to almost everything going through Lionel Messi, with Tévez occasionally taking things into his own hands.

But the German impetus will be impeding Messi, a task which will fall to Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira. Germany’s deep-sitting midfielders occupy the area of the pitch Messi will seek to control, and while the mere presence of defensive midfielders is not enough to slow Messi, Germany has more quality in that position than Messi’s faced to this point.

Mexico seemed to give Messi trouble, with Rafael Márquez, Gerardo Torrado and Andrés Guardado taking turns troubling the Argentine star before two curious goals broke open the Round of 16 match. That spell of trouble lasted only twenty minutes. It’s unclear whether Germany can create similar problems for ninety.

Even if they can, they still have to worry about Tévez, who (as he reminded us in the second half against Mexico) is capable of creating goals on his own. Having long had trouble transferring his club form onto the international stage, Tévez is now showing signs of being as good for the Albiceleste as he is for Manchester City. Often being deployed to the left of Higuaín in the middle, Tévez will run-up against Lahm and Per Mertesacker and, if he can garner attention similar to Messi, will create a lot of room for Higuaín and an oncoming Ángel Di María.

Germany, Going Forward: The most interesting individual match-up of the day will be German attacking midfielder Mesut Özil against Argentina’s captain, defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano. Mascherano will need to disrupt his 20-year-old counterpart at the point when Özil receives the ball, before the attacker can turn up-the-pitch and get the ball wide to Thomas Müller (right) and Lukas Podolski (left), sending Germany moving forward. To deal with them, Argentina will have to get better, wider play from Maxi Rodríguez and Di María, which may open up space for Schweinsteiger and Khedira.

Those formation issues are compounded by personnel problems at the back. Opposing players have been able to take advantage of left back Gabriel Heinze and right center-half Martín Demichelis.  Left center-half Nicolas Burdisso is a sturdy option but a second choice to Walter Samuel, who will miss this match with a hamstring injury. Right back Nicolás Otamendi is also a second option, replacing the ineffective Jonas Gutierrez. All four are more suited to center half roles, with their lack of foot-speed problematic against the likes of Podolski and Müller.

With Miroslav Klöse’s play along the line always occupying at least one central defender, Argentina’s back line will be stretched any time Germany can flow into attack. If Mascherano can stop the attacks before Özil sets them upon the line, Argentina’s biggest weakness will continued to be masked.

How The Match turns: To this point, Argentina has deployed a relatively narrow midfield, with players like Rodríguez and Di María, normally wingers, playing inside of the area they’d occupy at club level, attempting to cut-down the space in front of Mascherano. If Argentina can adjust and deploy players wider through the midfield, they will have a better chance of slowing down Germany when they attack. This might involve conceding the space in front of Mascherano and hoping the fear of Messi keeps Schweinsteiger and Khedira pinned back. It might involve dropping Tévez, a sacrifice Maradona may have to consider as t he match plays out.  Unless the Argentines can create more obstacles for Podolski and Müller, Argentina could lose this firefight.