Maracana Stadium, Rio di Janerio
Sunday, July 13th; 19:00 hrs GMT
This is it. The ultimate chapter of the greatest extravaganza in the sporting world comes down to this. The most well-balanced of all units, the well-oiled machine operated by the astute Jogi Löw takes on a side led by a man who is on the verge of being bestowed the status of the greatest the game has seen. Germany against Argentina, you may assert without an iota of reluctance, is a game for the romantics, is a game befitting of the highest occasion in the sport the world loves, is a game worth its weight in gold.
The Big Picture
If the epitaph of ‘Unstoppable Force’ and ‘Immovable Object’ were to be attributed to these two sides locking horns, few would apply the latter to an Argentine or any South American side for that matter. The teams from the continent have for long been revered for the power of their expressive football that is easy on the eye whereas the Europeans have been deemed rather pragmatic in their approach. It’d therefore be an astonishing stat to come to terms with when one finds Argentina have managed to net only as many as 8 goals on their road to the finals; the number appears even paltrier when compared to Germany’s 17.
On the flip side, another piece of trivia that is worth everyone’s attention is, in the three knockout hurdles they’ve crossed so far, Argentina haven’t let any opposition go past Sergio Romero. Owing in part to their rock solid defensive line and coupled with the teams’ propensity to not open up too much against Lionel Messi, Argentina have been unspectacularly solid thus far and there’s a reason to believe that shouldn’t change much. Germany though, have played exhilarating football throughout the tournament and it’d be fair to suggest they have kept winning over more and more neutrals with each stepping stone.
The key aspect to this battle therefore is how long do the Germans hold back before activating the full throttle mode against a resolute Argentine midfield. The repercussions of opening the floodgates could amount to being suicidal as it may allow Messi the space in the Germany half and what that could lead to is the easiest of guesswork. And that’s something definitely playing on Joachim Löw’s mind.
The History Angle
Both Germany and Argentina historically boast of a rich World Cup pedigree and a culture of doing well at the highest level. It’s therefore slightly surprising neither side has had their moment of glory for well over two decades. This is going to be the third time the two face each other in a World Cup final which is surpassing the record they hitherto jointly held with the Brazil-Italy rivalry.
For two successive editions of the World Cup in 1986 and 1990, the two occupied the slots in the final with each claiming the coveted prize once apiece. Maradona inspired Argentina came out winners in a scintillating contest in 86 whereas Germany exacted the revenge four years later in Rome in what is billed the cagiest of finals ever played.
The rivalry has further intensified during the last two World Cups in particular with Germany having eliminated Argentina from two successive quarterfinals – humiliating them in the latter. Lionel Messi was mysteriously kept on the bench by then coach Jose Pekerman in 2006 while he was reduced to a non-entity in 2010 by Bastian Schweinsteiger. He therefore, more than anyone else, has a huge point to prove on Sunday.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Under Joachim Löw, Die Nationalmannschaft have arguably been the most consistent side in the international circuit but for all their pedigree, have significantly underachieved. In the four major international tournaments during his tenure, Germany have finished runners-up once while there have been two semi-final exits. He’d surely be desperate to correct that record this time around and add a major silverware to his tally before his time probably ends. His tactical nuances have often been questioned in the big games but come Sunday and should he be spot on, the criticism of past shall lose its relevance for good.
Much to his delight, Löw doesn’t have any major injury concerns ahead of the finals and has all his first choice players up and running. Mats Hummels’ return has meant a huge deal to the defence and with Philipp Lahm having been pushed back to his more preferred position on the right, the backline appears in great shape. The German captain might not be the most intimidating figure in the world with his physical presence but has boasts of a perfect blend of attacking and defensive instincts on the flank. Lahm’s presence often keeps his opposite number in a very good check and at the same time allows someone like Thomas Müller playing in a far advanced position to lose his marker. In company of Toni Kroos who pushes a little wide to the right himself with his side in possession, the three indulge into quick exchange of passes and should Argentina fail to pick them, Germany could create havoc on that flank.
In effect, Germany manage to stretch the opposition midfield pretty wide which allows the double pivot of Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira more space in the middle. Of the two, Schweinsteiger prefers sitting deeper and controlling the tempo of the game and being one of the better conductors of space in world football, he is the key for the Germans while retaining the ball. Khedira on the other hand, makes runs in more advanced positions and is crucial at creating chances with his knack at providing the final ball. Mesut Özil operating on the left flank prefers making diagonal runs and is often at the receiving end of a through ball which he further puts on a platter for Miroslav Klose or doesn’t even shy away from taking a shot himself.
By his standards, Özil hasn’t had the best of the tournaments but is still a player the Argentines have enough reasons to be wary of. Germany will continue with a lone striker upfront in Klose who has had a dream World Cup so far by all accounts. He boasts of an exceptional positional sense and is immaculate with his conversion rate. Klose has also scored in each of the last two World Cup games against Argentina and it that tally being extended would be a safe bet. A chief weapon the German armoury is the custodian Manuel Neuer. A striker’s nightmare, Neuer stands tall in front of his goal resembling the German legend Oliver Kahn in so many ways. However, more than his unparalleled goalkeeping instincts, it’s his role with the initial ball distribution is what makes him stand apart.
Löw’s rotations throughout the World Cup have produced rich rewards and Chelsea youngster Andre Schürrle is one trump card he’d like to throw in at some stage in the game. The German squad has enough depth for the manager to effectively apply tactical rotations in accordance with the way the game progresses.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Neuer; Lahm, Boateng, Hummels, Höwedes; Schweinsteiger, Khedira; Müller, Kroos, Özil; Klose
The football played by La Albiceleste has been anything but a spectator’s feast. Lionel Messi’s individual brilliance from time to time drove them through the group stages and his influence has not diminished one bit but for the semi-finals, one may argue. It was Messi’s delightful ball to release Angel Di Maria against Switzerland that found an extra-time winner while Higuain’s splendid strike early in the game against Belgium was enough to see them through to the quarter-finals.
But Netherlands was easily the sternest test for Alejandro Sabella’s men in the tournament and apparently their midfield could do little on the penetration front against a determined Dutch side. The only advantage that Argentina have enjoyed thus far at the World Cup the teams are very peculiarly hesitant to open up too much against them, wary of the obvious consequences of Messi exploiting the spaces on offer. But that is not to undermine the strength and solidity on show from the Argentine defence. Javier Mascherano in particular has played some of the best football in his life and has been no lesser performer than Messi for his side. His stellar show of courage and character against the Netherlands deserves a special mention.
Lucas Biglia of Lazio should partner with Mascherano in what appears a double pivot but quite effectively transforms to a diamond while advancing in the opposition half. Mascherano often drops deep enough to add numbers to the central defence which allows the fullbacks to make advanced runs. Argentina mainly concentrate on a more central attacking line involving Messi right from the build-up. Messi has by and large found opposition team members unleash a couple of players strongly built figures to mark him out of the game but few have been successful. Messi also faces a rather alarmingly physical approach from the opponents but manages to have his way through them.
But quite unlike the teams Argentina have faced so far in the competition, Germany boast of a very strong midfield that demonstrates an excellent passing game. Opening gapes in the Argentina defence might not be as difficult for them should they manage to retain the ball for long enough. The South Americans will need the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Enzo Perez and at times even Higuain to drop deep enough to shield the defensive line. Their presence near the half-way line should also pose more questions to the German midfield who’d otherwise stay content at marking Messi.
Angel Di Maria’s absence is definitely a major blow for Sabella but while there are reports he’s in a race against time to be match fit, he doesn’t quite look like being ready to start the finals. Pretty much the same could be said about Kun Aguero. Not only their big game experience but the additional spark of creativity that they bring to the game will be a huge miss in the attack. Sabella has so far dealt with the unavailability of key players in a fairly efficient manner and the results attest the same. But once again, this is going to be the first opposition that will test them to their limits and whether they can cope up with the lack of attacking options will be interesting to note.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-4-1-1]: Romero; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Rojo; Perez, Mascherano, Biglia, Lavezzi; Messi; Higuain
- Müller (5) and Messi (4) have been the top scorer for their respective sides in the tournament.
- This is the third straight World Cup edition these two sides are facing each other, and contesting a third final overall in the World Cup history.
- Nicola Rizzoli is the third Italian referee to officiate a World Cup final. The last two instances involve Sergio Gonella (1978) and Pierluigi Collina (2002).
Players to Watch Out For
Phillip Lahm (Germany)
One of the most criminally underrated players of the modern times, Phillip Lahm sees himself with an opportunity to permanently immortalize his name in the football legends. A general in defence, Lahm’s contribution on the attacking front too cannot be underestimated and is arguably the most important card in the pack for Löw. Having been at a stage of this intensity more than once in his career with Bayern Munich and the German national team, Lahm exactly knows what it takes. Expect him to deliver when it matters.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
It’d be foolhardy to have anyone else take this space. Having won everything one could think of at the club level, Messi has still often been denied that final validation of ultimate greatness by the circles of purists. His absolutely magnificent showing this world cup has surely done enough to put all the doubters to good rest but conquering this final obstacle could elevate his legend to a pedestal few in his lifetime will have a claim at replacing him from. Similar to his Germany counterpart, Messi has faced the pressure and weight of expectations multiple times and has never failed to live up to his billing. Unless something goes dramatically wrong, Sunday shouldn’t be much different.
Germany 1-2 Argentina (After Extra Time)
That the game is going to be a cagey affair with is a no-brainer. Both sides should maintain a level of pragmatism and that could take away some of the aesthetic charm from the game. Both sides however boast of enough quality in attack for this to end goalless. Ultimately a team that can keep up with the rigours of 120 minutes of football should come out on top and a moment of brilliance from Messi could very well win it in the extra time to put the whole Maracana into a perpetual agony.
Blast From the Past