Old rivals face off for a berth to last eight

Bloemfontein: Old rivals Germany and England do battle yet again while Diego Maradona`s all-attacking Argentina expect to knock out Mexico for a second consecutive World Cup in two mouth-watering clashes on Sunday.

History looms large over Germany and England`s 1400 GMT match at Bloemfontein`s Free State Stadium. Though England won their only World Cup by beating then West Germany 4-2 in 1966, they paid for it in later decades, going out to them on penalties in the 1990 World Cup semi-finals in Italy and the 1996 European championship in London.

Not for nothing the old joke: "England invented football, but Germany win it."

Neither team goes into the game in top shape.

Germany have injury problems with striker Cacau confirmed out from an abdominal muscle strain, and midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger and defender Jerome Boateng doubtful.

England`s problems are more psychological, the confidence and fluency of a near-perfect qualifying round deserting them in the first stage when they stuttered to two draws before sneaking through with a 1-0 win over lowly Slovenia.

Police have protectively stepped up security in Bloemfontein for the game, though there is no specific information of a hooligan or terrorist threat.

Bookmakers are expecting a record 30 million pounds ($45 million) to be placed on the match, while the nations` respective leaders David Cameron and Angela Merkel plan to break off from the G20 summit to catch at least part of the game.

No less intriguing is Argentina`s game against Mexico which pits two attack-minded and slick-passing teams.


Just as happened with him in the 1986 World Cup that Argentina won, Maradona has built a team around his brilliant world player of the year, Lionel Messi. He has lit up the tournament with his dribbling and shots though is yet to score.

"Mexico are nobodies` favourite. We`re way down in the betting," said Mexico coach Javier Aguirre on the eve.

The Mexicans want revenge after Argentina dumped them out of the World Cup in Germany four years ago, 2-1 in extra time.

Maradona, whose brilliant playing career was tarnished by drug problems, is enjoying a personal renaissance as coach.

"All my life I`ve picked up the experience that today I`m giving my players with all my soul and heart, saying to the lads `that`s how it was for me`," the ever-passionate Maradona said ahead of the 1830 GMT game at Johannesburg`s Soccer City.

South America has had a fantastic tournament so far on African soil, all its five teams still in.

That has contrasted with the humiliating first-round exit of European soccer heavyweights Italy and France.

Beyond performances, the massive global audience is closely watching another crucial aspect of the tournament -- hair.

Shaggy manes and bushy moustaches of yesteryear have given way to a new wave of bleached beards, tidy crops and trendy headbands, providing plenty to talk about if the action is dull.

Award-winning U.K. barber Mark Woolley said players were increasingly adopting more conservative and sophisticated styles. "There`s been a definitive move towards the tailored city boy look," he told Reuters.

Bureau Report

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