On Sunday, England and Germany meet in a mouth watering clash between two of the world’s biggest footballing countries, while Diego Maradona’s unbeaten Argentina play Mexico in a bid to progress to the final eight.
Germany -v- England
Bloemfontein, 16:00 local time
Germany – exciting new look side have been impressive – Despite going through a bit of a blip in the final two games of their group stage, their 4-0 demolition of Australia made us take note of how formidable they can be. A loss against Serbia (no thanks to the harsh sending off of Miroslav Klose) meant Germany went into their final game against Ghana needing a win, and duly delivered albeit in a cagey 1-0 win over a good side.
Germany’s main threat comes from that of Mesut Özil. The Werder Bremen has been one of the brightest players in the World Cup. Against Ghana or Australia he wasn’t picked up, and all the space led to goals being conceded. He is incredibly creative and dangerous on the ball, and England will need have him well reigned to stand any chance. From a Germany perspective, Loew will want Özil to target the weakened England defence. Thomas Müller is another player who can cause damage, from England’s lopsided left hand side of Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard. In the middle, Germany have been terrific in their ball retention and efficiency, with Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger managing comfortable footholds in each of Germany’s three games. Schweinsteiger is a doubt, and his absence would be a huge boost to England’s hopes but Toni Kroos and Marko Marin are fine replacements.
England – will need to improve hugely to stand any chance – We’ve read enough about England over the past weeks so I’m not going to go into much detail. Capello will probably stick with more or less the same line-up that beat Slovenia rather unconvincingly, although King or Carragher will start at the back instead of Matt Upson. It looks like James Milner will also start after a better game against Slovenia, however I wouldn’t count on as much time on the ball as he did, against the young Holger Badstuber (or Jerome Boateng, if fit).
They will also have to keep tabs on Özil, obviously. This will be suit Gareth Barry but mean Frank Lampard will spend less time where he enjoys being most, attacking the opposition half. Gerrard’s movement will leave a lot of space for Philip Lahm and Mueller to attack, but this is often beneficial to the attacking instincts of Ashley Cole at left back. Up front, anything could happen, however I’d be surprised if Jermain Defoe didn’t start up top with Rooney after his vital goal against Slovenia.
Prediction: Germany 2-1 England
Argentina -v- Mexico
Johannesburg (Soccer City), 20:30 local time
Argentina – should we ever have doubted them? – Many felt Maradona’s men would implode this summer, and even more thought Lionel Messi, the best player in the world, would underperform. For shame. Argentina cruised through Group B, albeit against much lesser opposition. A comfortable 1-0 win over Nigeria, followed by the 4-1 hammering of South Korea and the completing the group with a 2-0 victory over Greece.
Their line-up is even more interesting. Maradona’s decision to return Juan Veron to the line-up, at thirty-six, was a masterstroke. So, he may have been forced to leave Juan Roman Riquelme out on the cold but Veron has been nothing short of superb, flexing his incredible passing ability like the days of old. The attacking trident of Carlos Tevez, Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain has been equally shrewd and formidable. Originally rumoured to be leaving Tevez out, Maradona has stuck with the hardworking Man City man from the beginning alongside the spearhead of Higuain and the awe-insprining Messi.
Their weakness unfortunately comes in defence. They haven’t been tested yet, but the counter-attacking style of Mexico will cause problems. The centre-half pairing is brittle, while Maradona’s persistance with Jonas Gutierrez is a liability to the team at the back.
Mexico – quick, counter-attacking and creative – After France’s implosion, Mexico deservedly helped themselves to second place in Group A just behind Uruguay. They began slowly, which is to be expected when your in the opening game of the tournament against the hosts, but managed at 1-1 draw with South Africa. That was followed by a fully deserved 2-0 victory over France, where they pressed and pushed Les Bleus intensely before cracking the vault in the second half. They finished with a loss against Uruguay, but thanks to their greater goal difference over Bafana Bafana, bagged themselves a spot in the next round.
Mexico have shown to be a fun attacking team to watch, but with a solid defence. Much like Uruguay, they like to play with an attacking trident of Giovani Dos Santos, Franco and Carlos Vela (or Guillermo Blanco or Barrera, with Vela injured). Javier Aguirre then makes the required changes in the second half where Mexico come to the fore, particularly through Javier Hernandez, a bright attacker who recently signed for Manchester Utd. It’s no surprise all of Mexico’s goals have come in the second half, after the “Little Pea” came on.
Mexico are one of the sides who can switch effectively into a 3-4-3 formation, depending on whether or not they have possession. When they’re on the back foot, they play a back four with Rafa Marquez sitting in front, making them very difficult to break down. When they have the ball, they convert neatly to a 3-4-3, as the fantastic Carlos Salcido at left back and his right back counterpart Ricardo Osorio attack up the flanks. This is explained in more detail here.
Prediction: Argentina 3-2 Mexico