With goals in each of his three 2006 World Cup games -- he swears he touched the ball Jared Borgetti appeared to head into his own goal during Argentina's 2-1 overtime victory over Mexico -- and the nifty backheel to teammate Esteban Cambiasso for the goal of the tournament -- teamwork category (see video of the 24-pass sequence) -- against Serbia & Montenegro, Crespo has been indispensable to Argentina in its spectacular run to the quarterfinals, where it faces host Germany Friday in Berlin.
The 30-year-old Argentine is starting up front ahead of several other famous names -- Carlos Tevez and Leo Messi.
But it hasn't always been the case in an international career filled with ups and downs.
He burst on the scene in the mid-1990s, leading Argentina in scoring as it earned the silver medal at the 1996 Olympics. The same year he moved to Italian club Parma, for which he scored 61 league goals in four seasons and which he helped win the 1999 UEFA Cup and 1999 Italian Cup.
Crespo was the leading scorer in South American qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, but for the second straight tournament, he was Gabriel Batistuta's backup. He bounced around Italy and England, never playing for the same club two years in a row since his move to Inter Milan from Lazio in 2002. (He is rumored to be returning to Lazio from Chelsea if the clubs can agree on a $20 million-plus transfer fee.)
Germany defender Robert Huth, who played with Crespo at Chelsea, says his Blues teammate has been transformed his summer.
"He has been really lifted by playing in a team which is producing such great soccer," Huth said. "We never doubted his qualities at Chelsea. But the Argentine side is full of great players and they have played probably the best football of the tournament so far."
Crespo isn't taking anything for granted, though, against Germany.
"Germany will be difficult," says Crespo, "but we will try to go out there and enjoy it. It could be the decisive match of the World Cup, and we will have to be on the top of our game. We do understand we still need to improve. We don't need to change a lot, but we did allow Mexico too much of the ball. We need to work on that because if you don't have possession, you cannot dictate the game."
IN AND OUT.
Germany should start the same lineup that rolled over Sweden in the second round. Captain Michael Ballack and leading striker Miroslav Klose were nursing injuries but will start. Midfielder Luis Gonzalez could return to the Argentina lineup in place of Cambiasso.
Argentina beat West Germany, 3-2, in the final of the 1986 World Cup. West Germany beat Argentina, 1-0, to win the 1990 World Cup in its last appearance before the return of unified Germany. Argentina and Germany played each other twice in Germany last year. Both games ended in 2-2 ties.
Germany (4-4-2): 1-Jens Lehmann (36 caps-0 goals); 3-Arne Friedrich (40-0), 21-Christoph Metzelder (25-0), 17-Per Mertesacker (27-1), 16-Philipp Lahm (22-2); 19-Bernd Schneider (68-1), 8-Torsten Frings (56-8), 13-Michael Ballack (68-31), 7-Bastian Schweinsteiger (32-7); 20-Lukas Podolski (29-15), 11-Miroslav Klose (59-28).
Argentina (4-4-2): 1-Roberto Abbondanzieri (26 caps-0 goals); Lionel Scaloni (7-0), 2-Roberto Ayala (104-6), 6-Gabriel Heinze (32-1), 3-Juan Pablo Sorin (74-11); 22-Luis Gonzalez (29-5), 8-Javier Mascherano (19-0), 10-Juan Roman Riquelme (35-8), 18-Maxi Rodriguez (17-6); 7-Javier Saviola (34-10), 9-Hernan Crespo (58-32).
Lubos Michel of Slovakia will be in charge of the Germany-Argentina game. He was only 28 when he worked his first World Cup qualifier. Michel, now 38, officiated the USA-Chile bronze-medal game at the 2000 Olympics and three games at the 2002 World Cup.
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Lippi: Ukraine isn't a one-man show
It would be easy to call Ukraine a one-man team. Italians know all about Andriy Shevchenko of Ukraine, the Azzurri's quarterfinal opponent on Friday in Hamburg, from his seven years at AC Milan.
But Italy coach Marcello Lippi warns that it would be wrong if his team only concentrated on the 2004 European Player of Year who is headed to Chelsea next season.
"He is a great player," said Lippi, "but they had two years of fantastic performances in qualification and then in this World Cup, after they suffered against a brilliant Spanish performance [4-0 defeat], they qualified from their group and haven't conceded a goal."
Lippi said that the athletic Ukrainians can take the game to their opponents.
"We can't think that if we take care of Shevchenko then we have taken care of Ukraine," he added. "He is one player in the end."
IN AND OUT.
Francesco Totti, whose penalty kick won the Australia game, should return to the starting lineup in place of Alessandro Del Piero. Lippi started Alberto Gilardino and Luca Toni up front in a 4-3-1-2 formation against Australia but could go with the 4-3-2-1 he used against the Czech Republic with Mauro Camoranesi starting in place of Gilardino or Toni. With central defender Alessandro Nesta highly doubtful with a groin injury and Marco Materazzi suspended, third-choice Andrea Barzagli should join captain Fabio Cannavaro in the middle of the defense. For Ukraine, defenders Vyacheslav Svidersky and Andriy Rusol return from suspension. Veteran Serhiy Rebrov should return to the starting lineup but as an attacking midfielder. Andriy Vorobei should keep his job up front with star Shevchenko. Andriy Vorobin is out with a thigh injury.
Italy and Ukraine met four weeks ago in a pre-World Cup friendly in Lausanne, Switzerland. The game ended 0-0. Italy won both games when they were grouped together in qualifying for Euro 1996. Italy and Ukraine are in the same group (along with a third World Cup 2006 quarterfinalist, France) for Euro 2008 qualifying.
Italy (4-3-1-2): 1-Gianluigi Buffon (64-0); 19-Gianluca Zambrotta (55-1), 6-Andrea Barzagli (9-0), 5-Fabio Cannavaro (97-1), 3-Fabio Grosso (20-1); 20-Simone Perrotta (28-1), 21-Andrea Pirlo (28-5), 8-Gennaro Gattuso (44-1); 10-Francesco Totti (55-9); 11-Alberto Gilardino (19-8), 9-Luca Toni (21-7).
Ukraine (3-5-2): 1-Oleksander Shovkovsky (72-0); 6-Andriy Rusol (26-2), 22-Vyacheslav Svidersky (8-0), 2-Andriy Nesmachny (53-0); 9-Oleg Gusev (29-1), 4-Anatoly Tymoshchyuk (59-1), 8-Oleg Shelayev (23-0), 19-Maxim Kalinichenko (24-4), 11-Serhiy Rebrov (74-15); 7-Andriy Shevchenko (68-31), 16-Andriy Vorobei (56-7).
Belgian referee Frank de Bleeckere was the referee the last time the Italians, unbeaten in 22 game, lost. He officiated the Italy-Slovenia game in October 2004.
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