x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

No penalties, please

Forget fear and trepidation, a flurry of confidence has descended on the hordes of Argentine and German fans assembled in Cape Town as long as the match does not go the full distance.

German fans believe Philipp Lahm will be the man to stop Lionel Messi of Argentina.
German fans believe Philipp Lahm will be the man to stop Lionel Messi of Argentina.

CAPE TOWN // Forget fear and trepidation, a flurry of confidence has descended on the hordes of Argentine and German fans assembled in Cape Town. Germany's dismantling of England in the last round has confirmed Joachim Loew's side as a prolific counter-attacking unit.

Driven onwards and upwards by the legendary Diego Maradona, Argentina, with 10 goals in four matches, are the tournament's most potent side. It should be an attacking game tonight. With five World Cup championships between the two teams, their fans are expecting success and are upbeat on their sides' chances. "I think we we'll win if we control [Lionel] Messi," said Thomas Bily, a German fan who has treated his son, Tobias, to a World Cup birthday week. "He is the only really distinguished one in their team. The rest are good but not brilliant. Stop Messi, stop Argentina and I'm sure Philipp Lahm will do it; he is as quick and as subtle as Messi."

"The key will be our tall defenders against their small strikers," said Michael Bettendorf, following Germany throughout the tournament. "We have to handle them in any way we can. We can't just stop Messi. [Gonzalo] Higuain is nearly as fast and [Carlos] Tevez is stronger. We'll be compact and play on the counter-attack, but we can't sit as deep as we did against England. Argentina are better than England and will create more chances."

"Argentina are overrated," said birthday boy Tobias Bily, 18. "Anyway, even if we fail to beat Argentina, we still beat England and that's good enough for me." The Argentines' attentions, much like their German counterparts, centred on one player: Messi. "He's playing well and he'll score a hat-trick, you watch, he's been saving goals in his pocket for this game," said Marcos Castano, an Argentine from Mar del Plata who is travelling with his countryman Carlos Monsalva.

Castano pointed to a nearby T-shirt of Maradona and raised his thumb. "I like Maradona, but [Monsalva] is fanatical. "Before, maybe most people were not too sure, but I have always liked him. He's gone up in most people's estimations; they said he couldn't organise a team, but he can and our players love him." After crashing out to Germany on penalties at this stage four years ago, losing another quarter-final meeting with Germany is not something Felipe Albormoz, an Argentine living in Johannesburg, was contemplating. "Messi is the key for us," he said. "We are waiting on him to score. He has a good chance, but the whole team must play. As long as it is not penalties again; my heart won't make it."

At the Green Square Market, an outdoor arts and craft fare in Cape Town, at least one vendor was slightly less football-centric when asked where his allegiance fell. "We've had more Argentina fans come and buy stuff, so we're hoping they win," said Joe Phiri, a stall owner from Malawi. emegson@thenational.ae