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Argentina v Germany

Messi the focus ahead of quarter-final

July 3, 2010
By Soccernet staff

Diego Maradona admits he is concerned for Lionel Messi's fitness ahead of Saturday's quarter-final with Germany, but Franz Beckenbauer says it is essential he is marked out of the game.

Lionel Messi
GettyImagesLionel Messi remains the main man for Argentina

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Although he has yet to score in South Africa, Messi has been an impressive performer and an essential part of Argentina's campaign to date. There are concerns over his fitness, though, with a virus restricting his involvement in training on Friday.

"He told me about it and I sent him back inside," Maradona said. "It was very cold when we started training at 4.30pm. I gave him a bit of a rest. I just let him have a rest so he could play against Germany."

He added: "I never had any doubts about the participation of Messi, but I am a little worried about him."

If he is fit, Messi is likely to be a key figure in the match. He has enjoyed a return to form with his country since Maradona changed his formation, giving Messi a free role behind Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain.

"I want to give him freedom to play his game," Maradona said. "He has no defined position. These players, like Messi, if you label them or shackle them, you'll detract from their freshness and initiative."

Beckenbauer, who won the World Cup with West Germany as both player and coach, feels Joachim Low must learn a lesson from Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan side, who kept Messi at bay during this year's Champions League semi-finals.

"Inter Milan demonstrated how to successfully take Messi out of a game in the Champions League against Barcelona," he wrote in Bild. "He must be isolated to stop passes getting to him. It will quite often fall to Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira.

"We have to stop the best attack in the World Cup. In front of Messi is Gonzalo Higuain. He is fast, dynamic and has a good shooting technique. And Carlos Tevez is coming from the left. Our back four will have work with total concentration."

Beckenbauer says that, in Argentina, Germany face "by far the hardest game for our team at this World Cup", but he is convinced they are beatable, identifying their defence as a weakness.

"Miroslav Klose should attack early against the shaky centre backs who allowed Mexico chances in the second round. Thomas Muller can give Gabriel Heinze - who is becoming slow - the slip on the right hand side."

Maradona, though, is rated as a strong point. "It would be an error to underestimate Diego Maradona as a coach," Beckenbauer wrote. "I did not understand the doubts over him. An exceptional former player does not need to be told much more about football.

"The Argentina players would go through fire for Maradona. I know from [Bayern Munich defender] Martin Demichelis how much they revere him. The worst thing for them would be to disappoint Diego."

While Messi is the focal point ahead of the game, Germany's Mesut Ozil has been compared to the Barcelona star after some impressive showings in South Africa. The Werder Bremen playmaker, a Barca fan, says he is desperate to get the better of Messi at Green Point Stadium.

"Yes, many in the team call me Messi," Ozil told Bild. "That's my nickname. I want to beat Messi and we want to beat Argentina as a team. I am convinced that we will beat them, so you can bet on us."

He added: "They will be a tough side to beat and we must not be provoked. I'm not afraid. I'm looking forward to the game. Argentina have a lot of world-class players in the team, and I want to measure myself against them."