Cape Town, Jul 3 (DPA): Argentina's stars must play for their very lives in Saturday's quarter-final with Germany to bring joy to fans at home desperate for World Cup success, charismatic coach Diego Maradona said Friday.
The footballing legend cut his usual jovial figure, exchanging banter with journalists, until asked what Saturday's quarter-final in Cape Town's Green Point stadium means to his countrymen. Then he turned deadly serious.
"I will tell them (my players) they have to leave their lives on the pitch," he said. "Behind them is a whole country that hasn't enjoyed a (World Cup) victory for a long time."
"The Argentinian people depend on this team to be able to get up in the morning with a smile on their faces," he added.
The two-time champions haven't won the World Cup since Maradona, in his playing pomp, inspired them to a 3-2 victory over West Germany in 1986.
The Germans gained revenge with a victory over Maradona and his teammates in 1990, then knocked the South Americans out on penalties at the quarter-final stage in Germany 2006.
Maradona, whose leadership was questioned when Argentina struggled to qualify, now has his team playing fluent football as he transmits his passion and winning touch to his charges.
But despite the exit of Brazil at the hands of the Netherlands earlier in the day, he refused to accept that his side - very impressive so far - were the new favourites.
Nor would he drawn into making further comments about German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who Wednesday launched a tirade against the South Americans.
Schweinsteiger recalled the 2006 quarter-final, which ended in an unseemly brawl, as he accused the Argentinians of a lack of respect and trying to provoke opponents.
Maradona had previously mocked the midfielder, saying he seemed nervous, but would only say Friday he was completely focused on Argentina.
Neutrals were expecting a cracking game between two free-scoring sides.
Argentina, with Lionel Messi backed up by the deadly Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez, have scored 10 goals - handing out a 4-1 spanking to South Korea in the process.
The young German side - with an average age of 25 - boasts fewer star names, but was hugely impressive when trouncing Australia 4-0 in the group stages and England 4-1 in the Round of 16.
However, Maradona was not too impressed with the victory over England.
"Let's not recall that Germany beat England 4-1, that's a bit of lie," he said. "England made it very easy for Germany."
Star man Messi missed training through a cold Friday, but Maradona said he would play Saturday and be given free reign to unlock the German defence.
"Players like Messi, if you put them in box, you hurt their freshness ... you have to give them freedom," he said.
The winner of Saturday's game will go on to a semi-final tie against either Spain or Paraguay in Durban July 7.