RUSTENBURG - English and Germans swapped stories and jokes here on Friday as the 'phoney war' between the two nations intensified ahead of Sunday's World Cup "classic" clash in Bloemfontein.
While the Germans have claimed that a more experienced England are the favourites to reach the quarter-finals - and a likely meeting with Argentina - England have blushed and avoided provocative reaction.
'After you Klaus' followed by 'No, Claude, you first, bitte,' summed up the mood. Nobody was talking of beer or disappointment.
The appearance, at a crowded news conference, of David James steered an inquisition by television reporters towards memories of Italia '90 and penalty shoot-outs, but the 39-year-old goalkeeper stood firm.
The World Cup history of matches between the countries form a chapter itself - victory for England in the final at home in 1966; a West German extra-time win in the quarter-final of 1970, a semi-final win on penalties for the Germans in 1990.
No wonder all the talk, despite the patchy form of both nations here so far, is of a "classic".
James, however, was not playing ball on Friday despite the best efforts of reporters straining to catch every word and the possibility of Saturday's front or back page headline.
Following an invisible, but obvious, party line, first heard from Jermain Defoe the previous day, James parried every verbal spot-kick with a downbeat and cool response.
Penalties? No - we are not planning for it to go that far, thank-you. Ninety minutes will do. But we will do our homework.
Revenge? No - we don't care about the history.
German strengths? It's just another match against a "decent side."
Unsettled England? No - contrary to reports from you lot.
Where were you when England lost to Germany, on penalties, in Turin, 20 years ago? Long pause. "I think I was in a pub with my mate, drinking orange juice."
James played a blinder to please his manager.
As a warmer-than-usual sun shone on the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus, England's footballers stayed calm somewhere out of sight while clusters of media men gathered on an outdoor deck.
It was no 'tabloid frenzy', but there were unique sightings of information exchange and mutual laughter.
These Englishmen could not be accused of losing their credit rating and ignoring modern European friends in need.
Some of British tabloids may have regurgitated old stories about the Second World War, but the Germans, players, management and media, refused to be provoked.
Coach, Joachim Low, talking to reporters at the same time as James, was asked about the tabloid talk of WW2 and said: "This is 2010 ..."
Despite their flurry of four goals against Australia, in their opening Group D game, the Germans remain an unknown quantity, a young team lacking an experienced leader, following midfielder Michael Ballack's injury-enforced withdrawal.
They have youthful exuberance and a camp fuelled by anticipation and excitement. By comparison, England are old hands at the psycho-babble of the build-up to such a contest.
German captain Philipp Lahm said he was mentally ready for an "absolutely classic game" that will bring his country to a standstill. "Everyone will set their days for this - there will be no sailing on lakes," he said.
Unlike Franz Beckenbauer, Germany's former World Cup-winning player and coach, who has twice stirred up the mind games with critical comments on England, Lahm and his men are lying low - or as low as Low will let them.
Like England coach Fabio Capello, Loew has to balance confidence and enthusiasm against complacency or over-excitement.
But Germany, missing Ballack's authority, have injury worries and midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger is doubtful. "There is a huge question mark over him," said Low.
There seem to be no similar concerns in the England camp, but nobody is certain. "There is no injury update today, because it is a closed training session," said the England spokesman Mark Whittle.
This lack of information - like James's barrier of irony - cast no light on England's real preparations.
That left reporters to the mercy of each other's assistance and anecdotes - like how former goalkeepers hid secret notes in their socks in readiness for penalties or practised saves in their dreams.
James said he was ready. He had been watching videos. "But it is our intention to get it done in 90 minutes," he stressed.
As this match approached, the tension was rising. Now both camps, and their media, must prepare for reality when the 'phoney war' ends and Uruguayan Jorge Larrionda blows his whistle.comments