Can England beat Germany?
World Cup 2010: Rustenburg
If Franz Beckenbauer has being doing his best to light a fire under a World Cup meeting between England and Germany, David James was on hand with the bucket of cold water.
As "Der Kaiser" continued the campaign he started almost from the moment this South African showpiece started, namely to undermine England, James was keen to downplay - to put it mildly - the importance of Sunday's last-16 meeting in Bloemfontein.
Without a hint of his tongue forcing a hole in his cheek and with the straightest of faces, England goalkeeper James announced it was simply "a game against a decent outfit".
True enough, but any confrontation between England and Germany offers a little more than that - and James eventually accepted the historical significance of what will unfold.
England, in case anyone had not noticed, have an array of old scores to settle against Joachim Loew's emerging young team, built from the framework of their lavishly-gifted under-21 squad.
From Mexico in 1970, through Italia 90 and on to Wembley at Euro 96, losing battles have been revisited constantly in the last 48 hours, although Fabio Capello's men will do well to remind themselves of the 5-1 victory in Munich in 2001 and Alan Shearer's winner at Euro 2000.
English obsession with penalty shoot-outs, especially the art of losing them, has been brutally exposed at the Rustenburg training headquarters ever since it was confirmed they would face Germany.
And it is an obsession that does not surprise Joerg Althoff, a reporter with German newspaper Bild, who told me: "No. No surprise. I can understand it because of the history. Germany is very, very firm at taking penalty kicks. The last time a German player missed a penalty in a shoot-out was Uli Stielike against France in Spain in 1982.
"Germany always prepares well. Jens Lehmann had a sheet of paper in his shin protectors ready for penalties against Argentina four years ago, and I know Manuel Neuer will be ready if this happens on Sunday.
"The record of the English sides is very poor - it is there for all to see - and if a shoot-out occurs again I'm very confident we will proceed."
So in what appears to be the highly unlikely event of this battle for a quarter-final place being settled by a football match, can England unseat Germany before the need for spot-kicks?
Let's start with the Beckenbauer factor. The German legend, a World Cup winner as player and manager, has made it his business to appoint himself as England's arch-critic.
Is this a sign of secret respect or even fear of England? One thing is certain, England's backroom staff will have no need to draw his criticism to the attention of the players in the crucial moments before kick-off. Capello will happily clutch at any extra incentive - and Beckenbauer has provided it.
Beckenbauer has subsequently apologised for the comments, intriguingly putting them down in part to being in "a bad mood" - but England are sure to use them as a motivational tool in the hope they will come back to haunt this iconic football figure.
England's players have grown visibly in confidence since the win against Slovenia ensured they would not go out at the group stage. A victory against a relatively lowly footballing nation is not a huge achievement, but the relief and elation was obvious even in coach Fabio Capello and provides momentum into the knockout phase.
There is a mood within England's camp that a stuttering World Cup campaign can now officially get under way. The pressure - and indeed fear - looks to have been lifted, although the only proof can come with another improvement on Sunday.
Further good news emerged from the England camp on Friday with the word that Wayne Rooney is "flying" in training, peppering James with an accuracy and power that has been absent so far. He will hope to repeat the feat against Germany.
England played with much greater tempo and passion against Slovenia. They were more of a threat. But Germany will present a different proposition and levels must rise again.
Rooney, in tandem with Jermain Defoe, will have noted the ponderous nature of Germany's defence. If England's rearguard has been accused, rightly, of a lack of pace, then it is a failing shared by their opponents, especially centre-half Per Mertesacker.
The mobility of Rooney and the speed of Defoe will give England major hopes of doing damage. Left-back Holger Badstuber's form has also been a cause for concern, so Glen Johnson and James Milner could profit in that area, although Hamburg's Marcell Jansen may be drafted in to bolster Germany's defence.
German coach Loew has a major concern over outstanding Bayern Munich midfield man Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has a thigh injury. His loss would be a major boost for England. Bayer Leverkusen's Toni Kroos is talented but he lacks experience and is no match for Schweinsteiger's influence.
England may target certain areas of the German team, but Capello will not underestimate the obvious talent of his opponents, who sparkled in the 4-0 defeat of Australia in their opening World Cup game.
If some aspects of Germany's defence may come under scrutiny, in 26-year-old captain Philipp Lahm, "The Magic Dwarf", they have a world-class operator and a mature individual who is revelling in the responsibility after taking the captain's armband from the injured Michael Ballack.
A popular character and impressive player, Lahm increasingly symbolises the new era of German footballers, who retain great confidence in their ability and a determination to emulate the success of their predecessors.
And the great new star of German football, Mesut Ozil, is undoubtedly the biggest danger. The Werder Bremen player is creative, a goal threat and the heartbeat of Loew's side. He has the complete passing range and an ability to run almost Lionel Messi-style at defences, which will expose any England flaws.
As England's holding midfielder, Gareth Barry will be detailed to monitor Ozil - whether he succeeds or fails could shape the game.
And John Terry will need to keep an eye on the arch-poacher Miroslav Klose, who has shown signs of rediscovering lost instincts on this World Cup stage and will return following his suspension for a red card against Serbia.
Germany are a team lacking in experience at this rarefied level, but "Die Turniermannschaft", the tournament team, flourish almost without fail at the World Cup. They will expect their youngsters to rise rather than sink in the face of this special match.
England will need captain Steven Gerrard to maintain the form that has made him Capello's star man in South Africa, Frank Lampard will need to produce the form that makes him such a potent force for Chelsea, and, most of all, Rooney will need to rediscover the form that can terrorise the world's best defenders.
If all this comes together, then England can claw back some of the historical supremacy Germany have established over the years.
A game against a decent outfit, as James claims. Yes, but so much more than that.