Just down the road from me at the Velmore Estate, the Germans have left for Cape Town and their biggest challenge of this World Cup—Argentina in the quarterfinal at Green Point on Saturday. Some game.
In 1986 and 1990, these two old rivals contested the final. Germany won a forgettable showdown 1-0 in Rome amid much referee-pushing and controversy.
This World Cup can’t afford another debacle like that. Too many games—Spain’s tired win over Portugal, Paraguay’s penalty shootout defeat of Japan—have left fans hoping for better.
I think they are be about to see that as the quarter-finals roll out across South Africa.
The Germans, normally such thorough planners, have had a few setbacks here. First came news that their luxurious Velmore base near remote Erasmia had no planning permission and had been built on the Hennops River flood plain.
They got over that, settled in...and crushed Australia 4-0 in their opening game. But then came a shocking 1-0 defeat against stubborn Serbia and everything was back in the balance. Their final group win over Ghana sent them through as Group D winners against Group C runners-up England.
A cracking 4-1 win dismantled the old enemy, with Wayne Rooney and Co travelling home in disgrace after “that” goal from Frank Lampard was disallowed, in the style of 1966.
And now the Germans' topsy-turvy campaign moves to Cape Town, 1,000 miles south, a two-hour flight, where they must meet Argentina, who boast perhaps the most talented squad at this World Cup.
Argentina have been preparing about 20 miles away at Pretoria University’s High Performance Centre. South Africa’s administrative capital has been buzzing with Argentines for three weeks now. They’re everywhere, lapping up the South Africa experience.
And while England, France, and Italy went home under a cloud, the atmosphere under the slightly crazy Diego Maradona has been awesome. At the end of every training session, dodgy Diego lines up his five-a-side losers and allows his victors to pelt their victims proffered bottoms with a firmly struck Jabulani.
It may be a super light World Cup ball, but boy it can sting. But cigar-puffing Maradona’s levity appears to work a lot better than the strict discipline and unsmiling regime of Fabio Capello and Raymond Domenech.
Capello appears to have avoided the chop for misreading the World Cup campaign, Domenech may yet face the guillotine for his part in France’s nearly pointless appearance at this World Cup.
But for Maradona, who has been bitterly criticised throughout qualifying, everything is turning up roses.
After struggling to emerge from the exhausting CONMEBOL qualifying campaign in fourth place, Argentina started with a 1-0 win over Nigeria. Then came wins over South Korea and Greece. Along with Holland, they were the only perfect group winners with nine points, scoring seven goals and conceding just one.
Then came a rousing 3-1 win over Mexico in their first knockout game at Loftus Versfeld on Sunday. Argentina appear ready to join the Latin American party at this World Cup, with a CONMEBOL nation contesting every quarterfinal.
Like Ghana, Holland, and Spain, the battle to overcome Latin American opposition and reach the last four is about to begin in earnest.
Maradona refused to get involved in a war of words with the Germans, saying simply, “They said I had no idea about how to coach. But suddenly I am winning matches and I am still the same guy."
But how about this from Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger. He witnessed the unseemly row after a clearly off-side Carlos Tevez goal in the win over Mexico and said, “You could see their behavior at half-time against Mexico. When you look at their body language and gesticulations, the way they try to influence the referees, they have no respect. It's their mentality and character, and we'll have to adjust.”
And this from Thomas Mueller, scorer of two goals in as many minutes in the epic win over England. Maradona thought he was a ball-boy when they first met, and Mueller growls, "Now I have won two titles and played in the Champions League with Bayern, so a few things have changed. As a coach I can't judge him but the results and the convincing way Argentina are playing means he is doing things right.”
Germany, fielding their youngest World Cup squad in 70 years, are the unpredictable side in the last eight. Maradona’s once-inconsistent squad appear to be the dominant force. For once, I’ll back the Germans. But only because Maradona is bonkers!
Neal Collins is in South Africa to mourn for England and promote his first novel A GAME APART. See www.nealcollins.co.uk .
The first World Cup penalty shoot-out. I was there! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kM8TJJ6RIqo
To see him perform at the National Arts Festival on July 4, go to http://www.computicket.com/web/event/neal_collins_a_game_apart/148367625 .