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Spain favourites to win 2010 Cup: Matthaeus

Calcutta: Lothar Matthaeus. The very name gives rise to a sense of awe. His workmanlike style of play and versatility — he has played as both defensive and attacking midfielder and a sweeper — imparted solidity to the German national team.

As his former coach, Franz Beckenbauer, once famously said: “Lothar has a normal pulse rate even after a 120 minute match. He is just unbelievable.”

So desperate was he to play in the final of the 1986 World Cup that despite carrying a broken arm, he camouflaged it under a skin-coloured plaster.

The 1990 World Cup-winning captain touched down in Calcutta on Friday morning on a three-day visit. After unveiling the World Cup trophy, brought to the city for the first time by Coca-Cola, at a plush city hotel the man who has played more World Cup matches than anyone else, spoke to the media at length.

The following are excerpts

On his last World Cup match. A 0-3 quarter final loss to Croatia, in ’98

Yeah, it was not the kind of end I thought I would have in World Cups. Till half-time, it was a nice match but then we got a red card. You must be aware that in the World Cup, every knockout match is like a final. You have to take risks. It just happens that on that day the risks we took did not work in our favour.

Bitterness about not getting the respect due, in Germany

Well, when I spoke out against lack of respect it was a general comment. It was more against the media than anyone else. All I wanted from them was a little respect. As a World Cup-winning captain I think I deserve that.

Diego Maradona and the famous rivalry

Oh! Diego Maradona. In the 21 years I played football, I didn’t seen a better player than Diego. He is the greatest of all time. Our first meeting was on 22nd March 1982 for a Germany versus Argentina clash. And since then Diego has never scored against me.

Diego says you have been his greatest rival….

Maybe because I never tried to kill him. There were no tackles from behind. What I tried was to latch onto the ball before he could reach. And mind you, it’s very difficult when you are pitted against Maradona. For the 1986 World Cup final, Diego was at his best but still I managed to mark him well.

On German football

The problem with German football is that they don’t allow you to play the way you would love to. So, there may not be flamboyant or skilful players but they can play very well as a team. They love to play as a unit. This World Cup again, it’s the same thing. Germans have (Lukas) Podolski, (Miroslav) Klose and Mario Gomez upfront and I think they have the ability to perform at the highest level.

There being no second Lothar Matthaeus for Germany

It’s difficult to find a player like Lothar Matthaeus. It’s everywhere the same. You may see many fans wearing Pele shirts but you won’t find another Pele for many years to come. That’s how it has always been.

His favourites for the 2010 World Cup

Spain, without any doubt. They have everything right at this moment. From team composition, to the style of play. But that doesn’t mean Spain will win the World Cup.

His favourite player of the present times

Lionel Messi. In 2009 he has been fantastic. Winning six titles is no mean feat. He has been adjudged the Fifa World Player of the Year and rightly so.

Happiest moment

The 1990 World Cup triumph. The moment I held aloft the World Cup believe me I was on a different planet. It was a different feeling. The World Cup was Germany’s and I was the captain. Simply amazing.

The saddest

Bayern Munich’s 1999 Champions League final loss to Manchester United… We were thinking of celebrating all night long and then we conceded two goals. One thing I learnt from that — and I say that as a coach — ‘never relax until the final whistle is blown’… Anything can happen in football.

Whether he misses coaching

I am getting offers but will take one up only when I feel that the job will give me a chance to do something I feel strongly about. I will only return to coaching (Israeli club Maccabi Netanya was his last assignment, till April 2009) if I think the club will follow my way of seeing football.

His passion for tennis

I got hooked due to Boris Becker’s Wimbledon triumph in 1985. Tennis has a similarity with soccer. Like soccer, in tennis too we do a lot of running… we do lot of thinking. I still play whenever I get time.

Message for young footballers…

Enjoy the game. Football has an amazing quality of connecting people. I think football helps build friendships.

His impression of Calcutta

I am told cricket is very popular because there are some good results in cricket. But if you have the discipline and commitment, football, too, will get good results in the next 10-15 years. I am sure about that…

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