After a month of upsets, shocks, wonderful goals and some bewildering moments, the World Cup will reach its zenith on Sunday afternoon. 32 countries vied for the biggest prize in sports but only two, Germany and Argentina are left to see who will claim it.
There is no shortage of history between these two nations. The 1986 World Cup Final was a terrific fixture that featured the legendary Diego Maradona, donning the vintage blue and white strip. Germany overcame a 2-0 deficit to draw level at the Azteca in Mexico City, before Jorge Burruchaga slid home the winner in the 83rd minute, to give Argentina its second World Cup title.
Four years later, the two met in Rome in the final. It was a dreadful, cynical affair, filled with fouls and negative tactics. Argentina’s Pedro Monzon was the first player in history to be shown a red card in the final. Germany managed the only goal of the match, thanks to Andreas Brehme’s penalty conversion in the 85th minute.
The last World Cup saw these two sides meet again, this time in the quarterfinals. It was all Germany, who routed Argentina 4-0, thanks to Miroslav Klose’s brace, as well as goals from Thomas Muller and Arne Friedrich.
Tactics When Argentina Is Attacking:
Argentina’s attack has centred around Lionel Messi. Perhaps the best player in the world, the Barcelona superstar has had an excellent tournament, scoring four times while being a creative force. There is no doubt that as Messi goes, so does Argentina. You cannot stop him, only contain him.
Germany may have the answer though. The holding midfielder pairing of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira have been outstanding for Die Mannschaft. They have effectively clogged down the centre of the pitch, with tough but fair challenges. A disciplined duo, Schweinsteiger and Khedira will be asked to mark Messi when the magician receives the ball deep. (Messi has been lying deeper in this tournament. Expect that trend to continue, when he rejoins Barcelona in the fall.)
If Messi can get past the midfielders, Germany have centre full-backs that are a fortress. Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng aren’t the fleetest defenders, but they are a stern pairing that don’t let much get past them. Both are a physical presence that can intimidate mere mortals. Messi is better than mere mortals, but he will be challenged to win crosses in the air against these two behemoths. Messi might get past them with his pace, but both Hummels and Boateng are terrific at playing the position and won’t get caught that easily.
Then there is the issue of beating the keeper. Manuel Neuer has been arguably the best keeper in the tournament. The Bayern Munich goalie uses his long arms and athletic ability to thwart potential scoring opportunities. Messi will have plenty of work just to reach Neuer. It still might not be enough.
Support for Messi is vital so the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Gonzalo Higuain need to step up. Lavezzi has yet to open his account at this World Cup, while Higuain only has one goal to his credit. Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella moved Lavezzi to the right side, using more as a winger in their semifinal fixture versus Holland. It was Lavezzi’s best game of the tournament as he looked awake for the first time in Brazil.
Higuain did score the lone goal for Argentina in the quarterfinals against Belgium, but was invisible in the semifinals against Holland before being replaced by Sergio Aguero.
Higuain will not have an easy time in the final, as Philipp Lahm will be opposite him throughout. The Bayern Munich right back as been simply brilliant since Joachim Low moved him back to his natural position in the quarterfinals. Lahm spent some time in the central midfield, but he is best suited to defending the flank, while going on overlapping runs to join the attack. Higuain will need to track back, and help his defenders when Lahm goes forward.
Aguero did see time on the pitch in the semifinals, but he probably won’t be fit enough to play a full 90 minutes or more if required. If Higuain or Lavezzi are having a difficult game, expect the Manchester City to come on as a substitute.
A weakness for Argentina is a lack of attacking midfield options. There is no talismanic figure at the centre of the pitch for La Albiceleste, leaving Messi to do all the work. Javier Mascherano is an exceptional holding midfielder, but he isn’t keen on going forward on attack.
The absence of Angel di Maria hurts Argentina. The Real Madrid midfielder suffered a thigh injury against Belgium in the quarterfinals, and is likely to miss the final. Maxi Rodrigues could be used as an attacking midfielder, but the chances of the 33-year old lasting a full 90 minutes is slim. Enzo Perez and Lucas Biglia are better defensive midfielders, but lack the offensive spark Argentina will need.
Marcos Rojo can move from the back line into attacking mode. The Sporting Lisbon left back can go on overlapping runs when needed, but that could leave Argentina vulnerable on the flank where Thomas Muller sits. Germany are a strong counterattacking side, so Rojo will need to use good judgement on when to go forward.
Tactics When Germany Is Attacking:
Everyone saw what Germany did to Brazil in the semifinals. Die Mannschaft crushed the hosts 7-1, using brutal yet efficient force to finish virtually every scoring opportunity. Germany took advantage of acres of space conceded by Brazil to calmly yet coldly destroy A Selecao within a matter of minutes.
Thomas Muller leads Germany with five goals in the competition, one astray from Colombia’s James Rodriguez for the Golden Boot. The Bayern Munich forward/midfielder/winger is a swift, efficient poacher, who can win balls in the air, or use his dribbling technique to defeat defenders. As mentioned earlier, the matchup between Muller and Rojo is one to watch. Can the Argentine keep his head, and stay back to mark the dangerous Muller? Or will Rojo get caught upfield, leaving Muller space to create or finish scoring threats? This could decide who wins the World Cup.
Miroslav Klose is the new king of World Cup goal-scoring. The Lazio striker scored his 16th goal in the World Cup finals against Brazil, breaking the record, formerly held by Brazil’s Ronaldo. Klose is the classic poacher. He won’t beat you with dazzling skill, or mesmerizing talent, but he has the instinct to find open space, get to the ball and put it into the back of the net. Simple? Yes. But the simplest way is often the most effective.
Argentina’s two centre-backs, Ezequiel Garay and Martin Demichelis will have their hands full with Klose. Because Klose is good at finding space, zonal marking might be the answer to defuse that threat. Garay and Demichelis would be advised to guard space inside the penalty area, instead of straight man-marking Klose. Mascherano could fall back and help in preventing Klose getting free as well. But that might leave space for the German midfielders to swoop in. This will be a challenging task for Argentina.
Speaking of Germany’s midfielders, Toni Kroos was named Man of the Match against Brazil and with good reason. The Bayern Munich midfielder scored twice, while simply tearing apart Brazil’s soul with thunderous attempts on goal, or pinpoint perfect passes. Expect Mascherano to try to prevent Kroos from making a serious impact on the match. This will be another matchup to keep a close eye on.
Mesut Ozil has started all of Germany’s knockout stage matches, and should be on the team sheet for the final. The Arsenal winger was wreaking havoc in the semifinal, as his darting runs and creative vision ripped Brazil to shreds. Ozil has been favoured over Mario Gotze by Germany coach Joachim Low and that should continue in the final.
Pablo Zabaleta will be responsible for containing Ozil on the flank. The Manchester City right back isn’t very mobile, but will use his guile and positioning in an attempt to repeal Ozil’s advances. But the lack of pace may hurt Zabaleta. Ozil will use his superior speed to blow past Zabaleta if there is open space. Germany would be wise to take advantage of this.
Don’t expect Schweinsteiger and Khedira to push forward that often in the final as they will be busy, trying to contain Messi. However, if Messi drops back to deep because of a lacking Argentine midfield, it may green-light Schweinsteiger and Khedira to go move forward and penetrate the Argentine defence. But for the most part, expect the German duo to lie deep and pass the ball up to the attacking midfielders so they can create.
The overlapping runs of Lahm could cause a disturbance for Argentina, but the German captain will adhere to his defensive responsibilities first. Still, don’t be shocked to see Lahm charging down the flank to pursue a possible threat. Tracking back will be necessary for Argentina’s wingers, but they should be ready to counterattack if Lahm is caught. (Which is rare)
Argentina do have a strong goalie. Sergio Romero has been superb between the sticks. The Sampdoria keeper has not allowed a goal in normal time during the knockout stage. Romero shone brightly during the penalty shootout against Holland, making two terrific saves. Romero will be under pressure against the Germans, but he’s not a bad choice to guard the back line.
Possible Formations and Starting XI:
Germany, 4-2-3-1: Neuer: Lahm, Hummels, Boateng, Howedes: Schweinsteiger, Khedira: Muller, Kroos, Ozil: Klose.
Argentina, 4-3-3: Romero: Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Rojo: Rodrigues, Mascherano, Perez: Lavezzi, Messi, Higuain.
With Germany’s destruction of Brazil still fresh in everyone’s memories, it is impossible to pick against them. Sure, Messi might have the match of his life and prove to be the greatest player of his generation. Argentina are more tactically sound than Brazil, so don’t expect 7-1 to happen again. But there are too many concerns about Argentina’s midfield. Not enough attacking options leaves Messi alone far too often. While he is a truly great player, one man does not make a team and Messi needs help. Higuain and Lavezzi are too inconsistent at the best of times and Mascherano will be needed to defend. The Germans have many options going forward, but are disciplined enough to take care of matters inside their own penalty area. It won’t be a blowout, but everything favours Germany here. Germany wins 2-0, and will leave Brazil with their fourth World Cup title.
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