Germany and Argentina face off in the World Cup final at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on Monday from 5am (AEST).
Head to head
Played 20: Germany 7 wins, Argentina 9 wins, 4 draws.
These two have a long history, particularly in World Cup finals, with this their third clash for the top prize in world football. They met in consecutive World Cup Finals in ’86 and 90’, with Argentina taking the first title in a Diego Maradona led 3-2 victory. The second was a rather dour affair that Germany won 1-0 with a late penalty and Argentina finished with nine men.
This is it. And it would be hard to argue that these haven’t been the two best teams in Brazil. Argentina have been very pragmatic and successful while not being entirely convincing. Coming into the tournament, much was made of their electric front line. With names like Aguero, Higuain, Di Maria, Lavezzi, Maxi, and of course Messi, much was expected from them, however it has been their backline and organisation that has been the more impressive. Javier Mascherano has had a huge tournament, with his tackle on the Netherlands’ Arjen Robben in their last match typifying his performances.
Germany came out all guns blazing in the group stages, but seemed to drop off every performance since. After almost being found out by the Algerians in the round of 16, the team seemed to shake off any complacency and delivered one of the most brutal defeats in World Cup history, eviscerating Brazil 7-1, to earn their spot in the final.
Once the injury concerns were sorted out, the German midfield has been the best in the competition, with Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira in front of Bastian Schweinsteiger. When they start dominating that battle, it gives their front line far more options, as well as relieving their occasionally suspect back four.
The big issue
Which teams are we going to see? This has the potential to be a terrific last game of a terrific tournament, but both sides have been responsible for some boring football. Argentina have been very defensive all tournament, hoping to nick a goal through their captain - a plan that has been effective so far. Germany have had ineffectual matches, but have just managed to find a result while not being convincing.
However, the latest game against Brazil has turned most of that around. They showed relentless attacking prowess and given the opportunity will not shy away from goal. Players like Thomas Muller and Miroslav Klose don’t need an invitation to punish you, but then again, neither does a certain Argentine forward.
Something to consider also is the fitness of the two teams. Germany will come off the back of a five day rest, in a match that was over at half time, whereas Argentina played 120 minutes of intense football and had the shorter break between matches. This could play into the Europeans hands, particularly if the match goes beyond 90 minutes.
The game breaker
This match could come down to Argentina’s number 10, Leo Messi. He has guided his nation all the way to the final without being completely convincing himself. But it hardly needs to be said how devastating he can be if given the chance.
In his last match he was kept anonymous by a resolute Netherlands defence, and Germany will be hoping to replicate that. Schweinsteiger will be giving the arduous task of marking Messi, but Kroos and Khedira will need to be just as alive in front of him, preventing Argentina’s midfield from feeding their talisman.
There has been a lot of pressure on Messi’s shoulders in this tournament, and even more so in the lead up to this final. It’s easy to say he’s had this kind of pressure his entire career, but has he? At Barcelona it’s the club stalwarts of Andres Iniesta and Xavi the shoulder the responsibility as he is allowed to play freely. So much is required of him in this match. With all the comparisons to another Argentine number 10, he must stand up and dominate this match.
This World Cup deserves a classic final, and it is very possible it will get one.
Germany will have spent the last few days training hard, knowing that despite their huge result in the last match, the most important one is still to come.
Argentina’s defence will have to put in another world class performance to keep out this German side, which they are capable of doing.
Going forward it will be all about one man. Sergio Aguero can shoot from anywhere, and Gonzalo Higuain is one of the most lethal finishers in the world, but they will need Messi to pull the strings. If he is kept as quite in this game, as the Dutch managed, it could mean second place for Argentina.
You can’t see this German side being kept scoreless, with their terrific passing and movement off the ball. It will be dramatic, but the Europeans will have too much across the park.
Let’s go for a somewhat poetic 3-2 win to Germany.