CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Lionel Messi recovered from a cold and is ready to reach fever pitch for Saturday’s World Cup quarterfinal against Germany. And for all his hotheaded history, coach Diego Maradona dismissed days of German mind games with a shrug.

Forwards Messi of Argentina and Lukas Podolski of Germany returned to training on the eve of the match, raising hopes both teams cold be at their best.

Messi, the world’s greatest player, fully took part in Argentina’s last training session and got the thumbs up from Maradona. “I never thought of not having him play. I simply let him have a rest,” Maradona said.

And Podolski also joined his teammates for an leisurely outing at Green Point Stadium, seemingly little troubled by an undisclosed muscle problem.

For all the sweet moves of Messi and Germany’s Mesut Oezil, the wild push-kick-and-shove melee at the end of Germany’s penalty shootout quarterfinal victory over Argentina four years ago is still fresh in the mind.

Over the past days, Germany started the mudslinging, and did so with their renowned thoroughness, calling their opponents anything from “impulsive” to “temperamental” and bad losers.

And coach Joachim Loew certainly didn’t berate his players for lashing out.

“There is freedom of speech,” he said on Friday, adding that the Argentine players happily explore “the limits of legality.”

If anything, Loew said, it shows that Germany “has no lack of respect for Argentina.”

Maradona, so often the hothead, has shown lots of restraint.

“There is no need to talk about our opponents as they have done,” he said, sidestepping any opportunity to reopen the argument.

What could well bother Maradona more is that playmaker Oezil and strikers like Thomas Mueller and Miroslav Klose, who is likely to win his 100th cap, could put defenders like Martin Demichelis in trouble like they have never seen at this World Cup.

Maradona has full faith in the defender and has played him every minute in the tournament so far.

“As usual Martin has responded brilliantly at all times. Nobody now remembers a possible mistake he made,” Maradona said.

To hold off the pressure, the role of Messi becomes all the more important.

A picture on the Argentines’ official website of Friday’s closed training session showed Messi moving freely on the pitch, going for a ball together with Juan Sebastian Veron.

“He did feel a little bit odd, a slight fever,” Maradona said, adding the one-day rest had done him good.

The team watched videos of Germany and analyzed its previous matches before training in Pretoria. The players also practiced penalties in case it comes to penalty shootout.

Even if he has not scored yet himself, the Barcelona forward has been instrumental in running up Argentina’s 10-2 goal tally with probing runs and crisp passing.

On top of that, Loew knows the depth of the Argentina team. “Their forward line is not Messi alone. There is (Carlos) Tevez, and there are many players who can decide the game.”

Argentina has in Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain a striker on form who shares the lead in the scoring with four goals from the three matches he played. If he fails, Tevez proved with a double strike in the 3-1 second-round win over Mexico that he can also easily step in.

After running England ragged in a superb 4-1 victory of creativity and speed, Germany hopes enters the game with some question marks.

Forward Lukas Podolski returned to training Friday after missing a day because of undisclosed muscular problems and he will undergo a late test before Loew will be able to call on him.

“If he fails the test, then we will have to look at another solution,” Loew said. “I have no fear when a player is out. I have no worries. There is a good balance in the team.”

Striker Cacau also made some runs and passed the ball around after a right thigh injury kept out for the past two days. Still, Loew said it was unlikely he would play against Argentina.

Especially Oezil has been sparkling at 21, showing skills that make him one of the best playmakers at the World Cup. With a slew of young players in their first World Cup, Germany has run up a 9-2 goal average.

Beyond the penalty shootout four years ago, both teams twice met in the World Cup final, with Maradona making the difference in a 3-2 win in 1986 and Germany winning with a late penalty in Rome four years later.

Maradona was a star in both finals, and now as coach, has been nothing less on the sidelines.


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