Argentina: don’t mention the nerves

The worst pub stories and jokes, as we all know, are the ones for which ‘you had to be there.’ And in the same way that closing-time alcohol-fuelled feuds tend to reach their climax, the crossfire between the German and Argentine camp has also taken a totally avoidable route.

Pre-match tension, arguments about dodgy decisions in past meetings between the two and general dislike of the opposing nation are to be expected when the World Cup reaches the knock out phase.

But when Bastian Schweinsteiger said what we all already knew, and predicted that Argentina will try to provoke them in Saturday’s quarter final, he goaded Maradona into a response. “What’s wrong Schweinsteiger, are you nervous?” German captain Philipp Lahm then backed up his boys saying that Argentina are simply bad losers.

The anti-Maradona camp would be keen to point the finger at Diego for answering back and escalating the war of words, and on the face of it, it may look like Diego was picking a fight. But those who saw the Argentina coach ‘challenging’ the German midfielder would have seen a different side to the story.

Set up by his smiling interviewers, Maradona put it away: “Eshtash nerviosho, Schweinsteiger?!” The giggling Maradona was impersonating Nestor Kirchner, the former Argentina president, copying the famous phrase from Senor Kirchner when he challenged the media empire Clarin about their consistently anti-government editorial line.

The lisping was all part of the joke - a joke that those who speak Spanish and know the Kirchner/Clarin battle well would get. For the rest of us, you had to be there.

The fact that Diego was laughing and joking with journalists in the build up to the quarter-final in itself mildly ironic, and not just because this is the man who told reporters during qualifiers that "You can keep sucking it".

Upon the final whistle against Mexico, the Argentina players rounded on the national press, reflecting Maradona’s ‘it’s us against them’ attitude. It's bizarre that they should seriously think the Argentine media want the national team to fail, given that the 2010 account books rest largely upon the Albicieleste’s performance in South Africa. But it’s what the players (and Maradona when he’s not sending up politicians) all seem to believe.

Whether the press are supporting Argentina is one thing. Whether thousands of locals in South Africa are supporting them is beyond doubt. Those who have adopted Argentina as their team after SA have mostly done so for one reason. Messi. And as we all know, Messi has yet to score at the World Cup.

Maybe it will be Messi who’s nervous ahead of playing Germany. Maybe the Germans should be nervous because Messi is due a goal. He won’t admit it, but maybe Maradona’s nervous that Messi won’t perform in the quarter-finals.

The Flea won’t be at 100% - “He’s a bit bunged up,” said full-back Clemente Rodriguez about Messi’s “flu” which prevented him training on Thursday – but snotty-nosed or not, Messi will face Germany, and should line up with the same 10 team-mates who defeated Mexico.

Germany represent Argentina’s first big test of the tournament, and after the way Joachim Low’s men breezed to this stage, the opposite is true. Throw in some postmatch fighting from the 2006 clash between the two, expect lots of prematch nerves...

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