Argentina and Germany set off for the World Cup with huge doubts about their prospects but they meet in Saturday's quarter-final in hot form with a great chance for the winners to go all the way to the final.
A war of words has erupted ahead of the match with Germany's players accusing the Argentines of lacking respect and Diego Maradona talking of revenge for an unsavoury defeat on penalties at the same stage of the last World Cup.
Yet when his team suffered a 6-1 humiliation by Bolivia and back-to-back defeats by Brazil and Paraguay, the fans despaired of even qualifying for the finals and Maradona was vilified for his scattergun selection policy.
Argentina eventually scraped through but after being outplayed by Spain in a November friendly, few considered them one of the main contenders in South Africa.
A happy and settled squad
Yet despite, or maybe because of, the manic exhortations of their iconic leader, they have put together nine successive victories to emerge as the team everyone wants to avoid.
Maradona has produced a happy, settled squad and has shown excellent man-management skills in praising the contribution of Lionel Messi despite the forward's failure to score.
Messi has been a constant threat but, while awaiting his first goal, those around him have come good with Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez netting six of their tournament-leading 10.
Jonas Gutierrez could come in on the left for Angel Di Maria to add attacking width against Germany with Juan Sebastian Veron back to form a stable midfield base alongside Javier Mascherano.
Gala team to play against Germany
"We have to try to find the best team, the 'gala team' to play against Germany," said Maradona, who captained his country to success over the Germans in the 1986 final but lost to them in the decider four years later.
Their meeting at the last World Cup, when Germany reached the semi-finals after winning on penalties in a game that ended in an unseemly brawl, has been to the fore this week with Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger stoking the fires.
"If you see how they gesticulate, how they try to influence the referee... that is not part of the game, that is a lack of respect," he said.Maradona responded by asking: "What's the matter with you, Schweinsteiger, are you nervous? We don't have time to think about Schweinsteiger. The players are thinking about going onto the pitch, in getting their revenge."
Young Germans are dangerous
A series of injuries, including the loss of captain Michael Ballack, forced coach Joachim Loew to reassess his forces and the young side he has put together have, as Germany so often do in tournaments, has gelled expertly just when it matters.
Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, set to win his 100th cap have rewarded Loew's faith, Thomas Mueller has added attacking sharpness and Mesut Ozil has brought vigour to midfield. Skipper Philipp Lahm says it is the best Germany side he has played in.
Loew also showed his tactical nous when he hatched a plan to expose England with exhilarating counter-attacks and his team put it into action perfectly in their 4-1 second-round victory.
Loew, set to be without injured striker Cacau, said he had something similar in store for Argentina in the battle to face Spain or Paraguay in the semi-finals.
"I expect an unbelievably tight match as we cannot allow ourselves any mistakes because they have so many players able to score," he said.
"But Argentina can be hurt. We have found some details of their weaknesses," he added.