The 2014 World Cup deserves an epic ending. For a tournament that has offered so much drama, so many wonderful goals and breakout performances, so many moments we'll never forget both because they were either oh-so-good and oh-so-bad, well, all that's left is a wonderful final act.
The truth is, we might be more likely to see it in the third-place game than we will in the final.
Brazil and the Dutch, after all, don't have much to play for. Perhaps Brazil will be playing to restore their dignity, but that's about it. With no pressure, we could see fireworks. Germany and Argentina, however, are likely to be a bit more cautious.
Nobody wants to make the mistake that costs their country the World Cup title, after all.
Below, we'll take a look at the schedule for the remaining two games, along with previewing each of them. The World Cup thus far has been a joyous, enthralling display—here's hoping the final is worthy of all that preceded it.
|Third-Place Game||Brazil vs. Netherlands||Saturday, July 12 at 4 p.m. ET||Estadio Nacional de Brasilia, Brasilia||ESPN|
|Final||Germany vs. Argentina||Sunday, July 13 at 3 p.m. ET||Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro||ABC|
Both matches can be streamed via WatchESPN.com and the WatchESPN app.
Brazil vs. Netherlands
In many ways, it's hard to imagine how Brazil will get up for this game after their historic and heartbreaking 7-1 loss to Germany. Can you get excited for a third-place match after your entire nation's heart was broken? Can you play your best after being humiliated, in your own country to boot?
Brazil is a team that play joyously, open, almost carefree at their best. Against Germany, they were punished for that approach. Granted, they were also punished because they didn't even pretend to play defense or put bodies in the middle of the pitch, but you have to wonder if a little part of this team died on the pitch on Tuesday.
Getting Thiago Silva will help. But the lack of Neymar really killed this team, as they didn't seem to have a player to really build the attack through. We'll learn a lot about the character and resolve of this team on Saturday. If they come out and give everything they have, they can hold their heads high.
But if they get embarrassed again, well, they might all be deported.
One thing in their favor will be that the Dutch don't seem particularly thrilled with having to play another match, either. Just check out the following quote from Louis van Gaal, via Brian Straus of SI.com:
Does Van Gaal value his shot at bronze? "I think that this match should never be played. I’ve been saying this for 10 years." Guess not.— Brian Straus (@BrianStraus) July 9, 2014
Still, from a tactical standpoint this match favors the Dutch. If the Brazilians are as open and unorganized in the midfield as they were against Germany, the Netherlands will absolutely torch them on the counter. Arjen Robben in particular has been brilliant on the break, and he could score seven goals himself if the Brazilians don't maintain defensive responsibility or keep bodies in the midfield.
The Dutch want to sit back defensively and absorb an attack before springing on the counter. They want to force an opponent into meaningless possession. Against Argentina, that approach was mitigated because Argentina generally wanted to play the same way.
But against a team like Brazil, the style could work perfectly. If Brazil aren't careful, they could get embarrassed for a second consecutive match.
This won't be a 7-1 drubbing. But don't be surprised when the Netherlands end Brazil's World Cup on another sour note.
Prediction: The Dutch win, 3-2.
Germany vs. Argentina
I wrote a more comprehensive preview of this match here. But let's touch on some of the key points below.
This game will come down to which team can better implement their style, and probably which team scores first. If the Germans not only win the possession battle (they will), but continuously have meaningful possessions and create enough chances to keep the Argentines on their heels, they'll win.
If they can score first, force Argentina to send more numbers forward chasing the goal—leaving them more vulnerable on the attack—the Germans will likely take advantage of that fact, add a second tally and win the game.
But if Argentina can stay compact and support the back four, they have the type of disruptive midfield that could really keep the Germans off-balance. As Germany forces more numbers forward, Lionel Messi should be able to find more space to work in the midfield and could really hurt Germany on the counter.
Whereas Germany wants to build through the midfield and allow their creators like Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozil to pick apart an opposing defense with pinpoint passing, Argentina are more comfortable staying behind the ball and quickly moving it forward to their attackers to win one-on-one battles or quickly find a through ball or cross that beats a defender scrambling to get back in position.
The tricky part for Germany is that if they play their style of football, it might leave Messi with far too much space to operate in. And Messi given space is enough to beat any team. Just consider how the Dutch dealt with him, according to Miguel Delaney of ESPN FC:
Because Dutch head coach Louis van Gaal absolutely knew the danger of leaving Messi space, he effectively sacrificed his attack in order to stifle him. That is the only way to explain why Nigel de Jong rarely strayed more than three yards from the playmaker and why, when he did, Messi immediately had two other players around.
It is also why the Dutch didn't offer an attack of note until close to the 90th minute, when they began to feel confident enough to get forward after Argentina began to tire and the match entered that curiously ragged period extra time always produces. Van Gaal knew that if you don't try to suffocate Messi, he is capable of tearing you apart. The unfortunate consequence, of course, is that the need to pin players back also saps your own forward line, which means both attacks are somewhat nullified.
Is Germany capable of playing such a style? Probably not. More likely, they'll press and play organized, possession football. They'll be less cautious than the Dutch going forward, of course, because they are far better at holding onto the ball and dictating the style of the game. But still, Messi will have more room to operate.
So while the Germans win possession, Argentina will sit back and play classic counter-attacking football. It's a tactical battle as old as the game itself, and should be fun to watch unfold.
Personally, I'm of the belief that Germany will have success playing their style, but I've also seen Messi do more with less in this tournament than any other player. Germany may be better for much of the match, but Messi only needs a few seconds to make any team pay.
I say his few seconds of brilliance will trump Germany's general control of the match.
Prediction: Argentina win, 2-1.