Friday, July 2, 2010

Carlo's Corner: Argentina V Germany Preview

Guest columnist Carlo gets you primed and ready for tomorrow's titanic quarterfinal clash between Argentina and Germany. Enjoy. -Kanu

Argentina vs. Germany
Saturday, June 3 – 10:00 a.m ET/7:00 a.m. PT
ESPN and Univision

Just as they did in the 2006 World Cup, Argentina and Germany will square off on Saturday with a birth in the semi-finals at stake. Germany won that encounter on penalties, after the teams were tied 1-1 after extra time.

Throughout this World Cup, these historic rivals have had more in common that one might think. Both teams won their round of 16 matches fairly easily, albeit with the help of two atrocious referring decisions. Both Argentina and Germany have lots of firepower on offense, topping the World Cup scoring charts with 10 and 9 goals, respectively. Finally, despite fairly impressive defensive records thus far, both squads have shown some weaknesses in defense that both sets of attacking players will look to expose.

There had been some speculation in the Argentine media that Maradona might make a couple of changes to the side that defeated Mexico 3-1. The thought was that he might replace either Angel di Maria or Maxi Rodriguez, both outside midfielders, with a more central player to help strengthen the team's central midfield. Nevertheless, it now looks as though Maradona will field the same starting XI that he did against Mexico. With this lineup, the Albiceleste have pace and skill on the wings, but may find themselves outnumbered in the center of the park. They will certainly be heavily reliant on Javier Mascherano, who could find it difficult to deal with the German midfield trio of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, and Mesut Ozil. If Argentina are losing the central midfield battle, we may see either Carlos Tevez or Lionel Messi drop deeper into midfield to help maintain possession.

It will be interesting to see if Maradona instructs his side to press Germany’s defenders when they are in possession, as they did against Mexico, or if he prefers them to sit back and defend from a deeper position. The strategy worked well against Mexico, producing the giveaway that led to Gonzalo Higuan’s goal. The risk with defending high up the pitch against Germany is that it may allow their speedy attacking midfielders and forwards to get behind the Argentine back line. Having said that, Argentina looked uneasy when they tried to sit back and kill the game off against Mexico. Maradona may therefore feel that his team’s best chance for victory lies in pressing Germany all over the field so that Argentina can recover possession as soon as it is lost.

As you might expect, the key for Germany’s defense will be to contain Lionel Messi. Messi will again be given freedom to roam the pitch and take up positions that best allow him to attack Germany’s defense. Midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira will probably be most responsible for marking the diminutive Argentine, but this task could be shared by other players, depending on where Messi positions himself. Both Schweinsteiger and Khedira have made incisive forward runs throughout the tournament, so it will be interesting to see if they are still encouraged to make such runs or if one or both of them is directed to hang back and keep an eye on Messi.

How well Messi performs may very well determine the outcome of this match. I have the feeling that Argentina could have advanced this far in the tournament without his services, such is the attacking talent they have at their disposal. From this point on, however, they will need him to be at or close to his peak in order to advance. He should have ample opportunity to do so against a German defense that looked shaky at times against both England and Ghana. In addition, this has the potential to be the type of open, end-to-end affair that should suit Messi's style perfectly.

As mentioned earlier, Argentina faces similar questions about its defence, especially with regard to its ability to defend speed, a quality that Germany's attackers possess in abundance. One player in particular that Argentina must be able to account for is Ozil. While all of Germany’s attackers are allowed a significant amount of freedom in their movement, Ozil is the player who is given the most freedom to roam in between the opposition’s midfield and defense. Maradona may entrust Mascherano with the task of accounting for Ozil. While the Liverpool midfielder is no doubt a fine candidate to do so, the concern is that in tracking Ozil, he will leave Argentina vulnerable to attacking runs made by either Schweinsteiger or Khedira.

Finally, I don't usually like to talk much about intangibles, but I feel they deserve at least some mention in this match. Argentina and Germany appear to be two of the most spirited sides in the tournament. They each faced skepticism before the tournament, and are now playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. I don't expect either side to go as quietly into the night as Brasil did. Rather, they will both fight until the final whistle (and maybe beyond).

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