JOHANNESBURG – Germany and England go head to head for a place in the World Cup quarterfinals this morning, both trying to ignore the hype that always surrounds their soccer matches.
Both sets of players are concentrating fully on the second-round game in Bloemfontein rather than the history of one of the sport’s greatest rivalries.
Since England’s contentious, 4-2 extra-time win over Germany in the 1966 World Cup final, Germany has won five of the 11 major tournament finals it has reached. England can count only semifinal appearances in the 1990 World Cup and 1996 European Championship, and lost both in shootouts to Germany.
“This is year 2010 and these games will not mean very much,” Germany captain Philipp Lahm said. “We were not born then.”
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England goalkeeper David James said his teammates have enough to think about as they prepare for a team that dismantled Australia 4-0, stumbled against Serbia, then beat Ghana.
“There will be a lot of external references and historical references, but for us it’s a game against a decent outfit and we have to win to progress,” James said.
The teams have not met at a major tournament for a decade but Loew said his team knows exactly what to expect.
“England is always England. It’s team with a lot of fighting spirit and very strong mentally, with incredible experience,” Loew said. “The axis with John Terry, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney has the highest quality you can find in European football.”
Rooney should have recovered from an ankle problem that forced his second-half substitution against Slovenia.
Germany’s biggest injury worry is Bastian Schweinsteiger, who hurt his right thigh in the 1-0 win over Ghana. Schweinsteiger has carried more midfield responsibility due to the absence of injured star Michael Ballack.
Loew said there was a “very big question mark” on the midfielder.
Forward Cacau will miss the match after pulling an abdominal muscle in practice.
Defender Jerome Boateng is also likely to miss the game because of a calf injury, but striker Miroslav Klose is available after sitting out awith suspension.
England has not lived up to its pretournament hype so far, laboring to draws against the United States and Algeria before edging unheralded Slovenia 1-0 to squeeze into the next round.
Coach Fabio Capello said the Slovenia win rekindled the spirit of the impressive qualifying series and believes the English have no reason to fear any team, even one against which they have such a checkered history.
“When people look at what’s happened over the years, all you remember is losing to Germany on penalties, but this is a different game and a different team,” said striker Jermain Defoe, who scored against Slovenia. “It’s about having a clear head. Forget about what happened before and focus.”
While Germany has not missed a penalty kick in a World Cup shootout since Uli Stielike’s saved shot against France in 1982, England has consistently failed in shootouts at major tournaments.
Besides the two memorable losses to Germany, England also lost to Argentina and twice to Portugal on spot kicks.