Armchair Pundit

Forget England, THIS is a rivalry

Alex Chick

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In our quaint, self-regarding way, we English like to think we have a major sporting rivalry with Germany and Argentina.

But it is clear who they really hate - each other.

This much is clear from positively lairy build-up to Saturday's blockbuster quarter-final.

As the two countries take verbal pot-shots at each other, you can't help but wish Diego Maradona or Philipp Lahm was being nasty about us.

We are like a small boy in the playground, trying to pick a fight with two bigger bullies who only want to scrap with each other.

We are clearly irrelevant to the Argentines, while for the Germans, we were a minor inconvenience on the path to bigger prey.

Today Lahm put it in the language of the South African game hunters: "Now we are up against our own big five."

The big five are lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino; presumably corresponding in some order to Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Holland and Uruguay/Ghana/Paraguay (delete as appropriate).

So what does that make England? Perhaps a flamingo - flashy, high-profile, but ultimately fragile and just a bit ridiculous.

Whatever, Lahm was quite clear that England were not among the big beasts.

"We have to show we can finally beat a big team - someone like Argentina, Brazil or Spain.

"Definitely, these are bigger opponents than England."

And with a bigger opponent comes a vastly increased level of mutual antagonism.

Earlier, Bastian Schweinsteiger had called the Argies conmen and wind-up merchants.

He said: "It starts before the match. You see how they gesticulate, how they try to influence the referee.

"That is not part of the game. That is a lack of respect. They are like that. We should not be provoked by them."

Offered the chance to douse the flames of this controversy, Lahm instead poured petrol on them.

"Bastian said what he said. We know South Americans are impulsive and temperamental and cannot lose," said Lahm.

"We will see on Saturday how they will lose and how they will behave after a defeat."
Fighting talk indeed.

And when informed of Schweinsteiger's remarks, Diego Maradona gave a typically measured response, calling out the German midfielder like a WWF wrestler: "What's the matter with you, Schweinsteiger, are you nervous?"

Compare this aggro to the almost irritatingly respectful build-up to the Germany-England game.

Perhaps the Germans felt they didn't need to waste their breath on such a clearly vulnerable adversary.

Today's quotes from team manager Oliver Bierhoff suggested as much: "It is not going to be easy on Saturday because Argentina are a stronger side than England.

"There were some obvious English weaknesses that had all been there in the group stages."

Sadly, Bierhoff hit the nail so squarely on the head it would be absurd even to think of playing the 'arrogant German' card. He was merely stating facts.

Germany have no need or desire to taunt England, whereas Lahm and Schweinsteiger clearly harbour genuine dislike for their next opponents.

It makes sense, really. We have never played anything more than a quarter-final against the Argentines, but West Germany played them in two consecutive finals - 1986 and 1990. The Argies finished the Italia '90 final with nine men.

And while the Anglo-German beef is kept alive by memories of something that took place 44 years ago, you don't have to go back far to find genuine bad blood between Germany and Argentina.

Four years ago a fractious quarter-final ended with Germany winning on penalties (of course) and the losers sparking an almighty brawl that involved both squads and showcased a few flying fists, plenty of hair-pulling and an enormous quantity of macho posturing.

Argentina have not forgotten that defeat, inspired by Jens Lehmann's penalty cribsheet kept in a sock. They are angry because the Germans were graceless in victory (and because they chucked away a winning position).

The Germans are angry because Torsten Frings was suspended from the semi-final against Italy as a result of the fracas.

Maradona has no doubt what Saturday's game is about: "We don't have time to think about Schweinsteiger. The players are thinking about going onto the pitch, in getting their revenge.

"I'm not worried about what they say about the penalties, the kicks. We're going to go and beat them in their half."

If Gabriel Heinze's treatment of a TV camera the other night is anything to go by, there is again some serious pent-up rage within the Argentina squad.

English fans must resign themselves to the fact that we are nothing more than a speck on the map of world football, and just enjoy what promises to be a total classic.

Two top-class sides, a historic rivalry, seething hatred between the two teams, and a place in the last four at stake. Forget England, this is what the World Cup is about.

Listen to Germany captain Philipp Lahm fan the flames in the video below. 

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