There are few sights more disturbing than that of an opponent enjoying himself. The Germany manager, Joachim Löw, speaking in advance of the side's quarter-final with Argentina, made it seem that the World Cup was deliciously fresh to him. The country, if West Germany's record is included, has won the tournament three times and appeared in the final on four other occasions, but he sounded as if he might be eligible for beginner's luck.
Although it is a relatively young line-up, these are no naifs. England understood that when losing 4-1 to them in the previous round. Fabio Capello's team were laden with aspirations and the joints of the elder players creaked like the hinges of a medieval door. Argentina are hardly in such a state, but they have reputations to protect and that, too, can make footballers careworn.
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Löw himself is adopting a role at this tournament as the embodiment of the future. He performs it with aplomb and you could almost forget that he is immersed in the trade and has endured the usual indignities. Karlsruhe sacked him in 2000 and the Turkish club Adanaspor meted out the same punishment the following year. The revival came as assistant to Jürgen Klinsmann, with Germany acquitting themselves creditably while hosting the 2006 World Cup.
Oddly enough, Löw and his adversary Diego Maradona have been in comparably beleaguered situations despite the stark contrast between a technician who doubtless has every coaching certificate and an Argentinian who seemed born to be a magician rather than a manager. Such stereotypes, all the same, can obscure the truth. There certainly were appalling results for Argentina in the qualifiers and the steepness of the 6-1 trouncing by Bolivia may not be attributed solely to the altitude of La Paz.
Nonetheless, automatic qualification was achieved with a 1-0 away victory over Uruguay. That outcome was all the more laudable in view of the fact that Oscar Tabárez's side were accomplished enough to be busy with a World Cup quarter-final against Ghana yesterday. Maradona has his strengths. It would be nonsensical to suppose that he was solely an instinctive genius as a footballer. A man so brutally marked could only flourish because he interpreted the game around him. He could be as much conductor as soloist.
His hard-earned status as a footballer carries over into the managerial work and respect for him verges on the instinctive to players who grew up idolising him. Should he be in need of expert advice it is present in the people around him, regardless of the difficulties in an inevitably convoluted relationship with the general manager, Carlos Bilardo, who was in charge of the side inspired by Maradona when the World Cup was won in 1986.
The sole simplicity of the situation at this year's tournament lies in the means at Argentina's disposal. It might have taken an effort of will for Löw not to throw his hands in the air when observing that Maradona has as a back-up striker Diego Milito, who scored both of Internazionale's goals when Bayern Munich were beaten in the Champions League final two months ago.
It would still be absurd to suppose that Argentina's players are intuitive types who make it up as they go along. There is sophistication to an Argentina system that has width and challenges opponents to deal with a swirl through the centre as Lionel Messi comes through in aid of Gonzalo Higuaín and Carlos Tevez.
At the same time, Maradona's side seldom get carried away and the defenders do not meander downfield. If Germany carry any advantage against a side that beat them 1-0 in a friendly staged in Munich in March it lies in the fact that Mesut Ozil, Thomas Müller and other emerging figures have nothing at stake. Should they lose the defeat will be pardoned, but victory would bring them a status scarcely envisaged at the opening to this competition.
This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.