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Heavyweights prepare for last eight battles

Written by: Staff
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ESSEN, Germany, June 29: The World Cup returns with a bang on Friday after a two-day break as the hosts kick off the first of the heavyweight quarter-final battles.

Germany are in the last eight for the 15th time in 16 attempts and face Argentina for the fifth time at a finals.

Their last meeting was the 1990 showpiece when Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann was in the team that triumphed 1-0 to take revenge for the 1986 final which the South Americans won 3-2.

Neutrals will hope Friday's game in Berlin resembles the exciting five-goal Mexico City encounter rather than the dour Rome decider, settled by Andreas Brehme's penalty.

Germany have improved with each game in this tournament and have a real belief that they can end their six-year run without a victory over one of the world's leading soccer nations.

Argentina, who sparkled in their 6-0 group stage thrashing of Serbia&Montenegro, were made to work hard by Mexico in the second round and the match looks enticingly close to call.

The opposite is true in Friday's second game where Italy, despite making hard work of Australia, are heavy favourites to get past a Ukraine team who limped into the last eight via a penalty shootout after a dire goalless draw with Switzerland.

Of the last eight, the Ukrainians -- who are making their debut at a World Cup finals -- are the only team to have lost a game and have also scored fewer goals and conceded at least twice as many as each of the other quarter-finalists.

Saturday begins with England facing Portugal in a repeat of the Euro 2004 quarter-final in Lisbon when the host nation triumphed on penalties.

Portugal are coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari, who also ended England's hopes at the quarter-final stage of the last World Cup when he was in charge of Brazil.

England have played poorly in the group stage, were awful in their 1-0 second round win over Ecuador but have a history of cranking up their game in matches against tougher opposition.

Portugal are still licking their wounds from a bruising, card-littered 1-0 win over Netherlands that has deprived them of suspended midfield duo Deco and Costinha.

However, the Euro 2004 runners-up have enough talent left at their disposal to trouble England's currently shaky defence.

The quarter-finals are completed by a repeat of the 1998 final as five-times champions Brazil, seeking their fourth successive appearance in the final, take on France.

Zinedine Zidane, scorer of two goals in their Paris triumph eight years ago, is due to retire after the World Cup and will be desperate to ensure he signs off with only happy memories of playing against the South Americans.

Brazil have moved ominously into the last eight without having to show more than glimpses of their best form and remain the bookmakers' favourites.

REUTERS

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