Any way you slice it, the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina should be superb. The storylines are certainly plentiful.
A European side trying to win the World Cup for the first team on South American soil. An Argentina side trying to win a World Cup on the soil of their bitter rivals, Brazil. The best player in the world, Lionel Messi, taking on a German squad that has played like a well-oiled machine. Two countries that are competing for the third time in a World Cup final (Argentina won in 1986, West Germany in 1990).
It's going to be a heck of a match. Let's take a look at the viewing information before previewing the match.
|Sunday, July 13||3 p.m.||Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro||ABC||WatchESPN|
You could forgive Argentina for being a bit drunk on emotion after needing penalties to beat the Dutch. But to their credit, their players were instantly looking ahead to the final. Here's what keeper and hero Sergio Romero had to say after the match, via John Cross of the Mirror:
Enjoy the moment, we will enjoy it and tomorrow we will start working for the final. I feel immense happiness, I'm really happy with everything. (Penalties) are a question of luck, that is the reality. I had confidence in myself and, fortunately, everything turned out well. Hope has been intact since day one.
Hope should be intact for Argentina. After all, it would be a mistake to assume that Germany will roll over Argentina after they rolled over Brazil, 7-1, while Argentina needed a penalty shootout to beat the Netherlands.
Tactically speaking, this game will be far different. Paul Hayward of The Telegraph makes the first point in that regard:
Argentina won't repeat Brazil's reckless tactic of trying to take Germany apart with no midfield. But Germans hot favs on this evidence.— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) July 9, 2014
The first point is spot on. Brazil went after Germany, but they never supported those forays forward with cover in the midfield or defense. While they sprang toward Germany's goal, the Germans had huge spaces in the midfield to exploit once they won the ball back. Brazil was far too aggressive against a talented German side and were embarrassed in the midfield battle.
Argentina won't be so naive. They'll be far more cagey, far more compact and far more patient. They'll concede possession to Germany, sure, but what they won't concede is position.
Dermot Corrigan of ESPN has more on that point:
Final going to be completely different game now. Argentina can sit & look to break. Germany midfield not ideal for handling Messi.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) July 9, 2014
The latter point is interesting. Switzerland and the Netherlands packed into the midfield and didn't give Messi much room to roam in freely. Germany will be a bit more open, however, with neither Sami Khedira nor Bastian Schweinsteiger shy about marauding forward.
Germany have desperately needed Philipp Lahm to return to his right-back role in the past two games and have been better off for his willingness to do so, but you wonder if Joachim Low will at least consider moving Lahm back into the defensive midfield with the sole purpose of marking Messi.
The counter to how the Germans will deal with Messi is the question of how Argentina will deal with Germany if Messi isn't at his best. Messi has provided the majority of the magical moments for Argentina in this World Cup, so if he's off, it's hard to see Argentina winning.
On the other hand, Argentina have arguably been the strongest defensive team in this tournament. If you want to call them "Messi and the Other 10 Guys," so be it, but keep in mind that those other 10 guys have done their jobs well and have jelled as a team. They are built to be sturdy and allow Messi the freedom needed to perform his magic.
In other words, Messidependencia—to a point—is all a part of the game plan.
Much of this game will come down to whether Germany can score an early goal, something they've made a habit of doing in their past two games. If they can do that, it will force Argentina to open up a bit and chase a goal, which should leave Germany room to operate on the counter.
But if Argentina get an early goal or keep things tight throughout the match, the Argentines can sit back and defend and look to work through Messi on the counter. If styles make fights, then this bout should be a tactical classic.
There's also the small matter of Germany both having an extra day of rest and the Argentines just finishing a 120-minute marathon, while the Germans basically walked through the second half against Brazil and subbed several key players out of the match.
But Argentina will have a far larger contingency of fans at the game, one would imagine. They have the best player in the game, too. They've proved to have ice in their veins in these down-to-the-wire matchups. They have their advantages, too.
Which team wins the World Cup final?
It's a tricky thing, to predict this match, especially if you perhaps picked Argentina to win the tournament before it began but have been more impressed with Germany over the past month. Hypothetically speaking, of course. If that's the case, sticking to your guns isn't quite so hard when Mr. Messi is involved.
It's time for the shadow of Maradona to be completely engulfed by the light of little Leo. In a classic final, look for Argentina to pull off the upset, winning 2-1 behind a Messi brace.