The most entertaining World Cup in a generation comes down to today’s final match that has produced a classic South America vs Europe clash — Argentina against Germany. It’s the planet’s best player against the tournament’s best team on the world’s biggest stage.
This Sunday showpiece in Rio is a repeat of the 1986 final, which Argentina won 3-2 to record its last World Cup triumph, and West Germany’s 1-0 victory in Rome four years later, which was its last win. So this game is the tiebreaker.
Of course, there is no Brazil, the host nation still coming to terms with its astonishing 7-1 loss to Germany. As if that was not bad enough, Brazil now has arguably the even more harrowing prospect of seeing fierce rivals Argentina lift the World Cup. It would be an unprecedented show of sporting strength on enemy territory. This was the result which Brazil feared — the scenario it never wanted to face, to have Argentina, its oldest foe, walk out of the iconic Maracana on Sunday as world champions. Anybody but Argentina.
The faceoff between Argentina and Germany is a meeting between brilliant individual scoring talent and the tight discipline of a collective unit. In such a comparison, normally the team effort wins. Germany will be favourites given the manner in which it destroyed Brazil. Germany also had an extra day of rest after the semi-finals while Argentina had more travelling. Germany, meanwhile, put on two of the most explosive displays of the tournament — beating Portugal 4-0 in its opening game and then demolishing host Brazil in the semi-finals.
From goalkeeper to centre forward, Germany is a team without a weakness. With the exception of an erratic performance against Algeria in the second round, Germany has played like a perfect team machine, getting goals from defenders, midfielders and forwards alike.
Muller will want to increase his goal tally of five (photo: ar.fifa)
Thomas Muller is Germany’s leading scorer and looking to become the first player to win two Golden Boots. But they have plenty of other people who can score too, as we saw when they demolished Brazil. Miroslav Klose has scored more World Cup goals than anybody else but they have danger-men in midfield like Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger and players like Mats Hummels who can come forward from the back at free-kicks. They have looked much stronger since dynamic midfielder Sami Khedira came in after injury.
The key thing for Germany is it is a team, and a team of very strong players, especially their midfield area and going forward.
As for Argentina, you think of Lionel Messi first, then the rest of the team. This is the stage to confirm his status as the world’s greatest player. The 27-year-old now has the opportunity to end the discussion about how great he actually is. The narrative is if Messi wants to be viewed in the same category as his compatriot Diego Maradona and Brazilian Pele, he needs to win a World Cup. His heroics with Barcelona are simply not enough.
Winning a World Cup will finally close the debate that Messi has never quite distinguished himself at a major tournament. After a good group stage in which he scored four goals, Messi has gone cold, not touching the ball in the Dutch penalty area during 120 minutes in the semi-final. He will have to do much better than that against Germany.
By coincidence, Maradona made his World Cup name also against Germany. His name is synonymous with the 1986 tournament in which he zoomed past England and Belgium before pulling the strings to defeat West Germany 3-2 in the final.
Besides Messi, Argentina is much better defensively than most people expected and will keep things tight again in the final for fear of a German blitzkrieg similar to what pulverised Brazil. Argentina has never trailed in this World Cup but it has not won by more than one goal. Its forwards have not been on fire and the injured Angel Di Maria will be a big miss. Di Maria has remarkable energy to go up and down the pitch and is their one player who can do that, especially with Messi not moving so well. Without him, they might struggle to hurt Germany.
For Germany, the equation is simple: if it can contain Messi, its superior strength in the rest of the field should make the difference. With Argentina, teams look at Messi and say ‘if we stop him we are really going to limit their opportunities’ – but with Germany it does not work like that for it carries multiple threats.
One thing speaks against Germany. No European team has ever won a World Cup played in the Americas. Germany thinks it can buck the trend and history would suggest so. Their last two World Cup encounters have gone Germany’s way. Argentina went out in the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup on penalties to Germany. Four years later in South Africa, Germany again ended Argentina’s hopes with a crushing 4-0 defeat. Those three straight wins give Germany a historical edge.
Germany has three World Cup tiles; Argentina two. Germany is better, and of course, its signature win over Brazil in the semis gives it a fear factor as an extra advantage.
Of course, anything can happen in just one game but for our money this is Germany’s World Cup.
Germany 2 Argentina 0