Hosts bubbling over with self-belief

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The Independent Football

"And for those of you watching at home, keep your fingers crossed." Thus did Germany's press officer end their media conference yesterday, filmed by more than 30 television crews, attended by hundreds of journalists, and broadcast live across the host nation.

The moment of truth awaits. After four wins and three clean sheets for Germany against moderate opposition, Argentina lie in wait in the Olympiastadion in Berlin this afternoon. A fixture which, a month ago, would have been deemed a formality for the South Americans is now too close to call.

This, is not because Argentina have been playing badly; indeed, they have produced some of the best football of the competition. It is because the German team are bubbling over with self-belief and playing like it.

"We have no fear, no angst," Michael Ballack said yesterday. "Argentina and Brazil are the yardstick by which all others are measured - but why shouldn't we beat them?"

The national coach Jürgen Klinsmann, was in a similar frame of mind. "There is not arrogance, just confidence," he said. "We're looking forward to the challenge, ready to rise to the occasion. Why shouldn't we beat Argentina?"

Most Germans agree. A staggering 87 per cent believe they will win the quarter-final, with 53 per cent predicting a fourth World Cup success. In March, after a 4-1 thrashing by Italy, only nine per cent thought that way. "It is not a burden being favourites, it is an honour," Klinsmann said. "Germany is a footballing nation. We have won the World Cup three times and the European Championship three times. It's natural for us to have reaching the final again as our goal."

For all the bravado, Germany may need a good start this afternoon. They have never been behind in this World Cup and have scored in the opening 10 minutes in three of their games. In the fourth, against Poland, they only defeated a 10-man Polish side with a goal in injury time.

While Germany are at full strength Klinsmann's Argentina counterpart Jose Pekerman is waiting on the fitness of Luis Gonzalez and Nicolas Burdisso.