Depending on who you talk to, you’ll find varying opinions on today’s final featuring European giants Germany, and an Argentina side still steeped in the legend of Diego Maradona desperate to break from its shackles. Many would have preferred an all South American affair featuring Brazil and Argentina, others still would have wanted a guaranteed break of the European jinx on foreign soil featuring Germany and the Netherlands, but perhaps this is exactly the final that was necessary.
While there will always be debate, it is certainly the popular opinion that Lionel Messi has been the player of the tournament, and you only have to look at the fact that Argentina are in the final for evidence to back said claim. With a brilliant attack on paper that has faltered, Messi time and again lifted his nation on his shoulders like a man on a mission – this is the one trophy he has yet to win, and the one he wants the most. His already legendary career has not done enough to truly endear himself to the country of his birth but not his up-brining. To lift the trophy, as captain and in Brazil would be more than enough to place Messi on a pedestal from which he would never be removed.
On the other side of the ball at the Estadio do Maracana today is Germany, unquestionably the best side in the tournament. Despite questions that arose during the group stage after two labored performances against Ghana and the United States after their thrashing of Portugal in their opening match, Germany has set the record straight in the knockout round and in no better way than their 7-1 destruction of Brazil. It is to the point that we have all run out of superlatives to laden Die Mannschaft with, but they are very much a footballing machine that is on a seemingly unstoppable mission that will end in their fourth World Cup trophy that hey have had to wait since 1990 to capture.
Projected Starting XI’s
Argentina (4-3-3): Sergio Romero; Marcos Rojo, Federico Fernandez, Ezequiel Garay, Pablo Zabaleta; Javier Mascherano, Fernando Gago, Lucas Biglia; Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi
Germany (4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; Benedikt Howedes, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Phillip Lahm; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira; Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller; Miroslav Klose
Key’s for Argentina:
- It’s quite simple really – they’ll have to produce their best team performance and then some if they expect to get past Germany and the final hurdle they have to negotiate on their way to World Cup immortality. No amount of Messi Magic will be enough if they do not come together as a unit.
- Germany have been exceptional at the back and Manuel Neuer has done nothing short of reinforce the notion that he is the best keeper in the world, but Argentina can still break them down by attacking the weak link in the German defense – Benedikt Howedes. A center-back by trade, he’s done well being deployed on the left, but he does lack pace and is a risk at getting caught on the ball and out of position. If Messi can make a meal of him, Germany could actually be in quite a bit of trouble.
- CONTROL THE MIDFIELD – With Angel Di Maria out, Alejandro Sabella could well turn to the trio of Mascherano, Gago and Biglia, which gives them far more fight, steel and grit in the midfield than if the offensive minded Di Maria was available for selection. Germany have brilliant attacking players, but the key to survive against them is to not let Toni Kroos or Sami Khedira boss the midfield – if Argentina can win that battle, they my well be sitting pretty.
Key’s for Germany:
- Argentina may be misfiring in the attack this summer, but you still have to consider the fact that they can deploy a host of talented players and as such, stability at the back must remain key. As such, the continued deployment of Phillip Lahm at right-back and keeping Howedes responsible on the other flank will increase their chances of garnering the desired result today. Any lack of cohesion and a loss of shape today will see Messi and company pick them apart.
- Joachim Low must stay with Miroslav Klose as striker, despite him officially becoming the all-time leading goalscorer in World Cup history. Klose is the best “fox in the box” Germany has, and while Thomas Muller has been brilliant for them, he excels as an attacking-midfielder making late runs into the box. When Klose leads the line, the Germans are more dangerous and have more than one player with the ability to finish, and in a match like today, that will come to the fore surely.
- Lionel Messi v Benedikt Howedes – As highlighted before, Messi and Howedes will be set to do battle on the same flank all match long, and the winner here could well dictate who wins the match over all. Howedes is very good when it comes to his defensive responsibilities, but given that he can be irresponsible with the ball at times and his lack of true pace means that Messi could target him for punishment.
- Toni Kroos v Javier Mascherano – There will be three separate midfield battles raging in this match, but none more so than this one. Despite being littered with talent throughout their XI, Toni Kross (now Real Madrid bound) has been Germany’s best player. His creativity, ability on the ball and eye for a pass from both the run of play and on set pieces has been absolutely key for Die Mannschaft – he’s been the supply depot for the German attack, and as such, Sabella will undoubtedly task Mascherano with cutting him off from Klose, muller and Ozil.
- Thomas Muller v Marcos Rojo – Rojo has done brilliantly for Argentina at left-back this tournament, bringing with him a blend of pace, positional awareness, ability to get forward and a gritty side of him that has made him a unsung hero for the South American nation. He will have to call upon those traits against Muller, who is arguably the best player in the world when it comes to movement off the ball and in the final third. No one makes late runs better than him and his ability to find free space in the box could give Rojo nightmares if he’s not at his very best.
There really could be no better way to end the brilliant summer that has been the 2014 World Cup than a final that features the best player in the world against the best team in the world. While there is sure to be moments of brilliance from Messi, it may be too little too late for Argentina to find the full-team performance that has eluded them for the duration of the tournament, against a team that is as close to a well oiled Panzer as you’ll ever come to find. Argentina should threaten Germany at the back, but the overall strength of their team game as a whole means Germany will not stumble at this final hurdle. For me, 2-1 Germany and Muller bags a brace.