Maradona pumped to face Germany

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:09 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG - Diego Maradona, meet Der Mannschaft.

Oh, that's right. You have. Twice, in fact, on soccer's biggest stage.

In 1986, in the massive Azteca Stadium of Mexico City, Maradona's wonderfully skilled Argentina side blew a 2-0 lead late and found themselves locked in a 2-2 tie in the game's dying minutes. But a splendid late goal gave the Argentines their second World Cup title, allowing Maradona to wrap his pudgy hands around the trophy for his first and only time.

Four years later in Italy, it was a different story. With a handful of Argentina's starters sitting out due to suspension, they dropped a 1-0 decision to the Germans, Maradona's final appearance in the championship game.

Now he faces the Germans again, this time as manager of Argentina. The venue will be the massive Green Point Stadium in Cape Town. The date will be next Saturday. And the occasion will be a delicious quarterfinal between two of soccer's super powers, with the losers packing up and going home.

Maradona's squad impressively punched its ticket to Cape Town with a 3-1 victory over Mexico on Sunday, leaving the former world player of the year dreaming of lacing up the cleats again.

"I feel like pulling on the jersey and playing myself," Maradona told reporters after the game when asked about the prospects of going up against this young German squad.

Certainly German coach Joachim Loew would love to see the Argentine legend insert himself into the starting lineup (even though the rules would not permit it).

Hey, maybe he could step in for superstar Lionel Messi, who is actually being criticized in some circles because he has yet to score a goal.

Such scrutiny is ridiculous. Argentina's little waterbug has been brilliant through his team's first four games in the tournament, consistently sucking in three or four defenders before dishing the ball off to one of his teammates who, on many occasions, find themselves with quality scoring opportunities.

Maradona did show some slick moves when the final whistle blew against Mexico, running around and hugging anyone he could find who was wearing that fabled power-blue-and-white Argentine jersey, even kissing some of his players. You almost expected him to race into the Soccer City stands and start smooching babies like some politician attempting to get elected.

Heck, if he leads this Argentina side to the title, he might get elected president at that. There is no doubt that Argentina has been the best team in the tournament. They are the only team to have won four games in this World Cup, outscoring their opponents 10-2 in the process.

But Maradona understands the Germans are no slouches either.

Through their first four games, Loew's crew have posted a 3-1 record, outscoring the opposition 9-2.

Check that. Make that 9-3. We're going to credit England's Frank Lampard with a goal in Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Germans, even if FIFA and its incompetent officials inexplicably chose not to.

"Germany is a different team to Mexico," Maradona said. "They are stronger, but we will field the right players to beat them.

"They played an open game against England and we must take stock of our situation (Monday) and see how we have come out of this match, how the players are feeling and try to put together the right team to showcase our talents against Germany."

Four years ago, the two teams also met in the quarterfinals, this time in Berlin. The game wound up going to a penalty shootout, with the home side finally come up on top 4-2.

But that was a different Argentina team, one that did not feature this edition of Lionel Messi, who is proving once again he is the best player in the world.

It should be an epic battle. Some are predicting a scoring derby, one that might end up with a scoreline of 5-3.

Either way, Diego, your squad doesn't need you to suit up. It should fare quite competitively without you, thank you very much.

mike.zeisbeger@sunmedia.ca


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