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Star-studded Argentina will put Germany to the test in quarterfinals

Having dispatched England, the Nationalelf now have to face one of the pre-tournament favorites. Argentina are undefeated thus far, and the question is: are they good, very good or world-class?

Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona

The two biggest names in the cup belong to Argentina

When Germany's young squad takes to the pitch against Argentina on Saturday in Cape Town, they will be forgiven if they're a bit awe-struck.

Lining up on the other side will be a living legend with a short fuse, the consensus choice for the world's most skilled player and three other forwards who would likely be in the starting eleven if they played for Joachim Loew.

On the other hand, the Gauchos have yet to face any truly top opponents and thus remain as enigmatic as coach Diego Maradona.

Recent history is also on Germany's side: The team knocked out Argentina at the same stage of the 2006 World Cup. But is there any chance of repeating the upset of the Albicelestes this time round? The key to success would involve exploiting weaknesses at the back.

And they'll have to pay special attention to the little guy who wears number 10.

The human PlayStation

Argentina's Lionel Messi is tackled

Messi always draws lots of attention

Any discussion of Argentina has to start with FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi.

At the tender age of 23, he is already the all-time leading scorer in the Champions League for his club Barcelona. Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger called him "unstoppable," "like a PlayStation" and "the best player in the world by some distance" after being on the receiving end of one recent barrage.

Much has been made of Messi's failure to score yet in the World Cup, but no one should be fooled. The youngster has been drawing two to three markers throughout most matches - in the group stage, Greece coach Otto Rehhagel even assigned a man-to-man marker to do nothing but follow Messi around.

That has opened up opportunities for Argentina's strikers, especially Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez. And after four games, Messi already has four assists.

It is impossible to take Messi completely out of a match. The trick is to limit his impact somewhat - but even that is going to pose major problems for the German defense.

"Against Germany, I'm playing double or nothing," Messi told reporters on Sunday after Argentina had sealed their quarterfinal berth with a 3-1 win over Mexico. The Nationalelf has been warned.

Midfield balance

Mexico's Adolfo Bautista, competes for the ball with Argentina's Javier Mascherano

Mascherano is Argentina's heart and soul

Maradona has five quality midfielders at his disposal, and with the exception of captain Javier Mascherano, who's played every minute of the World Cup, the coach has been rotating them.

They are a diverse lot. Angel di Maria is only 22 years old and is a rising star for Portugese club Benfica.

Juan Sebastian Veron, on the other hand, is a grizzled 35 year-old veteran who has played for a number of top clubs in Europe, including Manchester United and Chelsea.

What they all have in common, though, are quick feet. Argentina have moved the ball forward faster than any other team at the World Cup.

They're also a reliable defensive unit - which is more than can be said for the Gauchos' back line.

Question marks

Argentina's Martin Demichelis is challenged by Greece's Georgios Samaras

Demichelis' concentration has drifted at times

If this team has an Achilles' heel, it's in defense.

Center back Martin Demichelis, who plays his club football for Bayern Munich, was involved in both of the goals Argentina have conceded thus far, and his partner Nicolas Burdisso is standing in for regular Walter Samuel, who injured a thigh in the group stage.

And 23-year-old keeper Sergio Romero lacks experience and has looked uncertain at points, especially when forced to come off his line.

It's difficult to tell how susceptible the Gauchos are since the pair of goals they conceded have come in matches where they already held comfortable leads. Argentina tend to get lacksadaisical, if they think they have games under control.

So it will be well worth Thomas Mueller, Mesut Oezil and Lukas Podolski probing for weaknesses at the back.

Genius or madman?

Argentina head coach Diego Maradona gestures

It's unclear sometimes what Maradona has been trying to say

Undoubtedly the most inscrutable factor for Argentina is the man nominally in charge: Maradona.

The living legend's tirade against journalists after Argentina's difficult qualification for the World Cup has become a YouTube favorite, and his remarks to the press after progressing to the quarterfinals weren't bad either.

"Why should I think about Germany," Maradona bellowed at reporters after the Mexico win. "I can think about them tomorrow. You all write want you want anyway so you can say whatever you want. Have carte blanche to write whatever you want about what I think about Germany."

Maradona did swear revenge, however, for the 2006 World Cup, when Germany put Argentina out on penalties.

Pundits have debated back and forth whether Argentina's run has been due to or despite their mercurial coach. But Maradona does seem to have his players on his side, and team morale has been good.

And that's just another reason why Argentina is going to be a much, much more difficult adversary for Germany than England's luckless and hapless lot.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Rob Turner

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