Friday, July 2, 2010

Are you nerrrvoushh?

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – God’s gift to soccer writers had heard the rumblings from the German camp and couldn’t resist adding spice to Saturday’s Argentina-Germany quarterfinal match.

Diego Maradona is Argentina’s irascible coach and former mega-star player. He had gotten word that German player Bastian Schweinsteiger (picture) was complaining about Argentina’s tactics with the referees, the behavior of their fans and, of course, the dirty acts that went down during a brawl following Germany’s 2006 World Cup penalty kick victory.
So Maradona stared into a Fox Sports camera on Thursday and with a mock German accent asked: “What’s the matter Schweinsteiger? Are you nerrrvoushhh?”

Bless Maradona and bless a quarterfinals match that is heating up by the moment.

All had seemed behind the Argentina-Germany feud when the nations played an uneventful “friendly” this spring. That was then. This is the World Cup. Now it’s bad blood, worse accents and great theater.

It’s all led to circumstances surrounding the team’s 2006 postgame fight being rehashed in both team’s training camps Thursday. The Germans say it began when the Argentineans were mocking them during their penalty kicks and then when they celebrated the victory. Argentina recalled no such thing and claim the Germans deserved it.

Whoever is right doesn’t matter. What resulted was a fairly wild brawl between the teams. As far as sporting donnybrooks go, it ranked below your average minor league hockey bench clearer but way ahead of any baseball fight. There were punching, kicking and hurt feelings all around.

Considering the stage – World Cup quarters – it was a big deal. And now it’s back.

This has gotten so fun that even Pele, the long-retired Brazilian star, has taken a side – and, not surprisingly, it’s against his rival Maradona, who just this month said Pele “should return to the museum.”

“[Maradona] is not a good coach, because he had a bizarre lifestyle which cannot go down well with his team,” Pele told the German magazine 11Freunde.

Well, sure, if you want to get technical, a coke habit, alcoholism, a stomach stable, rampant narcissism, tax evasion charges (a mere 37 million euros), intense superstition, defiance in the face of authority and a mouth that never held back an insult could, in some circles, be considered “bizarre.” We in the media prefer “colorful.” And besides, the Argentinean players say they love their coach.

Anyway, what does Pele think of the German side? “This young German team is a pleasure to watch,” he said.

For his part, Schweinsteiger isn’t about to forget, let alone forgive the 2006 brawl. No matter what Maradona said, he didn’t sound nervous when he blasted the Argentineans for everything except the price of empanadas.

There was the way Argentina works over the refs: “When one sees Argentina’s games and the way in which they try to influence the referees. … It is a lack of respect, but this is what the Argentines are like.”
There was the conduct of Argentina fans: “We have already seen how the Argentine fans sit together in spite of the fact that those are not their proper seats, and they stop other spectators with the correct tickets from enjoying the game.”

He could’ve added that Argentina’s coach talks so much he makes Ozzie Guillen seem like a mime, but why encourage Diego? Germany can win the game and it can win another postgame fight (it can lose either or both also).
Schweinsteiger won’t win a war of words with Maradona, especially when Diego still has a press conference scheduled Friday where he is literally liable to say anything. We’re just hoping for more German imitations.

Know this: Both Argentina and Germany believe they can win this World Cup. Both sides have played extremely well. They are experienced, fast, creative and confident. The fact they are matching up so early in the tournament is a circumstance of the brackets. You can imagine either would prefer taking on Ghana or Uruguay right now.

They aren’t, though, which offers a replay of a thrilling game four years ago. Germany tied it at 1-1 with a genius, ping-pong heading combination in the 80th minute and then won it 4-2 on PKs. The fight only made it more memorable, the talking point of arguably the most argued about quarterfinal game in this tournament. Maradona promised his “boys” would play “in their faces.”

Cape Town is a laid back place – sand, surf and spectacular views. It’s a long way from the pressure-cooker of crowded, crime-fearing Johannesburg. That’s going to change Saturday – and for the better.

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