German football great Lothar Matthaeus picked Spain ahead of much-fancied Brazil and Argentina as his favourite team to win the FIFA World Cup to be held in South Africa from June 11 to July 11.
Unveiling the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour in its first stop at Kolkata, Matthaeus said, “Spain have excellent players in their ranks. They have everything in them and players who can make a difference.”
The former West Germany captain, who led the side to beat Diego Maradona’s Argentina and win the 1990 World Cup, described the Argentine great as the best footballer ever.
Recalling his rivalry with Maradona, Matthaeus said: “I have not seen any better player than Maradona. It was always great to play against Argentina. Whenever I played against him, I was in full concentration. He was fast but I was faster to catch him and hold him.”
Maradona had described the German midfielder and sweeper as his “best rival” and Matthaeus reciprocated the gesture saying they had mutual respect for each other.
“I had played against him for the first time in a friendly in 1982. He was a fantastic player. We had mutual respect for each other apart from the fact that we were rivals on the field. He respected the fact that I did not hurt his legs while tackling him,” said the 48-year-old former star.
But from the present lot, Matthaeus, who was the first to receive the FIFA Player of the Year in 1991, picked Argentine talisman striker Lionel Messi as the best footballer. “He is the best at the moment. But FIFA will decide who is the best player.”
About their 1990 World Cup triumph, which he described as his best moment in his career, he said, “He (Maradona) did not play at the highest level. It was easier for us to beat them.”
”...to hold the World Cup as a captain, it was a feeling which cannot be expressed in words. It was everything,” said Germany’s most capped player with 150 appearances.
Matthaeus, however, said he regretted losing to the UEFA Champions League final to Manchester United in 1999.
Having trailed till regulation time, Manchester United scored two goals in the stoppage time to win the match 2-1.
“We played great football in most part of the match but lapse of concentration in the late minutes did us in. That means you should never lose concentration till the final whistle. It was the saddest moment of my career.”
Asked about Thiery Henry’s infamous handball against Ireland in a World Cup play-off, the German ace defended the French striker saying even Maradona had a “hand of God“.
“I know it was not fairplay. But after the match Henry was down and upset and he had admitted it. I know it was just a quick reflex and not intentional,” he said. Matthaeus will be in the city till January 17 during the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour.