Germany and England stand for the anthems at Wembley in 1966 (via telegraph.co.uk)
With just a few hours to go until another fateful German - English clash, it is time to quickly get to know a few players on the "good guys," who will hopefully shove a fantastic result into Fergie's face. Remember, despite winning it all against Bayern in that one miraculous, 2-goals-in-added-time game, Ferguson is 0-for-4 against German opposition in the knockout rounds.Schalke finished 2nd in the Bundesliga last year...but this year they're faltering in a rather Liverpool-esque fashion, mired in mid-table with more losses than wins. Wonder if they would get granted an exception for getting back into the Champions League, should they somehow pull off a couple upsets. Because make no mistake...they're the vast underdogs against any of the remaining teams.
There some talent around, fortunately...so maybe, just maybe, they can continue their miraculous run.
It all starts with Manual Neuer in goal - an excellent young talent (just 25) and Germany #1 who is clearly playing for a big contract at a bigger club, refusing to sign any & all contract extensions. That's fine by us, however, especially if that motivates him to bring his A+ game.
The defense is anchored by another homegrown young talent, Benedikt Howedes, 23. He's been a fixture in the Schalke backline for the last couple years and was a mainstay of the Germany U-21 team as well. The English press is quick to talk down the Schalke defensive line, but with a supporting cast of the veteran Christoph Metzelder (back from the dead in Madrid), youngsters Papadopoulos, Matip, Schmitz and the tireless fullback Atsudo Uchida (hey there, Asian stereotype!), they should be capable enough. In fact, they have the 2nd best defensive record in the Bundesliga.
Unfortunately, they also have the 3rd worst offense. Much of that may be due to the lack of quality in midfield (especially after selling Ivan Rakitic in the winter). When your most creative talent there is an Atletico Madrid castoff (Jurado), you can't be too happy. They do have Jefferson Farfan out on the wing, who can be world class...but has been decidedly subpar most of the season.
If you're looking for an X-Factor in the team, you will find him at the front. Champions League legend Raul somehow has ended up here! Now if he were supported by (semi-failed talent) Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, you might have reason to be excited...but, alas, he's injured. The J-League star Edu (Brazilian) and former Greek legend/giant Angelos Charisteas are likely to deputize.
So there we have it...the friendly, mostly young, ragtag bunch of players who have (and who knows how?) made it this deep into the competition, dispatching more talented teams on the way. Benfica, Valencia, Inter have all fallen before them...could Manchester United be next?
I sure hope so. Come on you BLUES! (Did I mention that, oh yeah, they're also blue?)