Germany will be looking to silence Ghana’s Kevin-Prince Boateng in their World Cup Group G match on Saturday after the German-born midfielder accused Joachim Loew’s team of lacking a “tough-guy” leader to carry them through tight matches.
Boateng, who once played for Germany’s Under-21 team before switching to Ghana, touched a nerve by saying that no German takes charge in tough games – as in their semi-final defeat by Italy at Euro 2012 and a 4-4 draw with Sweden last year.
Germany were in splendid form in their 4-0 win over Portugal and will be looking to secure safe passage to the last 16 with victory over Ghana in Fortaleza.
Loew is hoping to field the same starting line-up that crushed Portugal even though there are question marks surrounding defender Mats Hummels, who hobbled off in the second half with a severely bruised thigh.
Expectations are running high on Loew and the three-times World Cup winners, who are among the favourites in Brazil, after they reached the semi-finals in the last two World Cups and got to the final in 2002.
Their demolition of Portugal, the team they feared most in the arguably the tournament’s most difficult group that also includes the United States, put more pressure on Germany to win the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
Germany beat Ghana 1-0 in the final match of the 2010 World Cup group stage to top the standings but Ghana advanced as well. It was a historic match when Boateng and his brother Jerome, a Germany defender, become the first brothers to play against each other at a World Cup finals.
“We need to take the teamwork, confidence and enthusiasm we had in the opening match into the Ghana match,” said captain Phillip Lahm, whose team want to clinch a spot in the round of 16 before facing the United States and their former coach Juergen Klinsmann on June 26.
The Germans were relieved to see Spain eliminated in the group phase, a team they probably feared most.
But they are also aware that the big win against Portugal could be worthless if they lose to Ghana. At the 2010 World Cup Germany won their opening match 4-0 against Australia before losing to Serbia 1-0.
“We won one match so far in the group phase but that’s nothing compared to what we came here for,” said midfielder Toni Kroos, who had two assists against Portugal.
Messi can shine against Iran
Having already bettered his last World Cup with a nerve-easing first goal in Argentina’s opener, Lionel Messi should lead his countrymen to an easy win against unheralded Iran in Belo Horizonte on Saturday.
Argentina started with a five-man defence in their 2-1 defeat of Bosnia but coach Alejandro Sabella should toss off the shackles and start with the players’ preferred 4-3-3 against one of the tournament’s most limited teams.
That tactical switch during the Bosnia game freed up Messi, and others in Argentina’s ‘Fab Four’ attackers, enabling the four-times world player of the year to score a dazzling goal that was his first at a World Cup in eight years.
“Messi could be the best player in the world – if he was human,” quipped awestruck Iran coach Carlos Queiroz, saying his charges would need a “miracle” to beat Argentina.
Iran may take heart from history, though.
In their sole prior meeting, Iran did secure a 1-1 draw with Argentina over 90 minutes during a 1977 match in Madrid – albeit they then lost on penalties in a low-key mini-tournament to celebrate Real Madrid’s 75th anniversary.
Asia’s best-ranked side at 43rd in the FIFA standings, Iran showed their vaunted defensive abilities in a 0-0 opening draw against Nigeria against Group F.
That game brought jeers from Brazilian spectators otherwise gorged on goals in the tournament, but delighted Iran who earned their first World Cup clean sheet, and only sixth ever point, in four World Cup appearances since 1978.
If Argentina win on Saturday, they will top Group F on six points and guarantee passage to the last sixteen.
Messi, Argentina’s most gifted player since Diego Maradona and desperate for a World Cup on his otherwise glittering resume with Barcelona, admitted he was nervous before the first game and urged an attacking formation from the off against Iran.
At the other end, Iran’s tricky winger Ashkan Dejagah and lone striker Reza Ghoochannejhad may not see much of the ball, but when they do, will be dreaming of prising open an Argentine defence lacking the brilliance of their strike force.
With a sole World Cup victory to their name, against political foe the United States in 1998, Iran can at least take heart from some big upsets in the tournament so far.
Bosnia seek victory over Nigeria
For Bosnia, a victory at the World Cup finals would be another first with African champions Nigeria in their sights at the Pantanal arena in Group F on Saturday.
One of the many splinter nations of the former Yugoslavia, who were a football power in their day, they may be newcomers on the sport’s biggest stage but naivete is not a part of their makeup.
Coach Safet Susic, a former Yugoslavia playmaker, is targeting a place in the next round at the expense of a Nigeria side who appear in the process of disappointing again as they did at two previous finals this century.
Bosnia put twice champions Argentina, among the favourites for the title, under pressure on their debut on Sunday after giving away an early own goal and scored a smart consolation though substitute Vedad Ibisevic, the nation’s first World Cup goal.
What Bosnia failed to do, which may have been the merit of the Argentine defence, was to find tall striker Edin Dzeko, their top player and the card they must play well to grab a place in the last 16.
Dzeko makes off the ball runs to allow the midfielders to race through into scoring spaces but Bosnia really need him as a finisher to overcome Nigeria’s best performer, goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
Those who believe the weather can have an impact on matches will be expecting Nigeria to be the more comfortable side in the heat of Cuiaba, a city in the very middle of South America where average winter temperatures are in the higher 20s Celsius.
But Bosnia showed against Argentina that they are a compact and disciplined unit and if they play patiently they should upset Nigeria, whose potential has fallen since the talented side of the 1990s reached the second round twice and won Olympic gold.
Nigeria lost defender Godfrey Oboabona to injury against Iran with Joseph Yobo, a veteran of the 2002 and 2010 finals, set to replace him.
Coach Stephen Keshi also looks set to start Peter Odemwingie up front alongside Emmanuel Emenike.
Bosnia’s captain Emir Spahic is doubtful with a knee injury after being ruled out of Thursday’s practice. The central defender left the training ground with a huge ice block strapped around his left knee.