And so a sequel continues: for the third time in history, the FIFA World Cup final will take place between Germany and Argentina.
With the European side having so ruthlessly dispatched the host nation Brazil by a 7-1 scoreline on Tuesday, they took their own place in the final while denying the watching world the pre-tournament favoured final of Brazil vs. Argentina—though that romantic notion may have died a little during the past three weeks given how both sides have played.
In any case, Argentina have kept up their half of the bargain after beating the Netherlands on penalties one day later. Their passage to the final was borne of resolute defensive organisation and steel, a sharp contrast to Germany's clinical, offensive-minded advancements.
Having swatted aside Brazil with contemptuous ease, Germany will now have seen how Argentina proved far more robust and savvy in their own half of the field and will be planning on how to overcome a side who seem determined to clean-sheet their way to the World Cup title.
Where Netherlands Failed: Behind Enemy Lines
The natural course of action for the German coaches, Jogi Low and Co., will be to study Argentina's games and see how their rivals failed to best them. In watching the Netherlands in the semi-final, two factors will immediately become clear.
First of all, there weren't many attempts by the Dutch forwards to make moves in behind the Argentine defence. Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie consistently came deep to link play, worked out in the channels to support the wing-backs and occupied the central defenders, but on very few occasions did they look to stretch play by running between and behind them.
Similarly, the midfielders failed to provide any kind of incisive through-passes for the forwards to look to use their own pace to do exactly that.
Argentina defended deep during extended build-up play, which made it easy for the defenders or keeper Sergio Romero to clean up lofted, slow, diagonal balls into the penalty area.
Germany will look to vary their attack considerably to prevent their attacking momentum becoming stunted, predictable and repetitive, much as the Netherlands' was throughout the 120 minutes of the semi-final.
Where Netherlands Failed: Runners from Deep
It's not just the forwards who failed to break the defensive lines. Aside from the odd foray past the back four by Wesley Sneijder, looking to latch onto a knock-down or two inside the area, none of the Dutch players from the second line of attack looked to join up with Robben and Van Persie.
The wing-backs were far more "back" than "wing" for most of the game. Georginio Wijnaldum was happy to play low passes into feet but not follow that up with a run forward for a return ball, and of course Nigel de Jong (and later Jordy Clasie) sat deeper, recycling the ball and protecting their own defence.
Not until the 90th minute did the Netherlands make a positive run into the area to link quickly and send a runner through the box, with forward Robben splitting the defence with a direct run, but he was foiled by a Javier Mascherano slide.
Cillessen has completed more take-ons (2) than RVP, Sneijder and Blind combined (1). pic.twitter.com/QXGt593mCC— Squawka Dave (@SquawkaDave) July 9, 2014
The Netherlands were the better side in terms of their ability to construct attacks, but they paid the price for a lack of adventurism or bravery in committing numbers forward—they never managed any kind of overload down either channel.
Germany will take from this that their attacking midfielders must do as they did against Brazil: Join up play with Miroslav Klose—presuming he starts again—but then also run off and beyond him, giving Argentina more problems than merely holding a single defensive line and allowing play to progress in front of it.
Sami Khedira's runs into the penalty area from central midfield were pivotal in the Brazil semi-final. He shouldn't be allowed as much time or space as he was then, but he can still play a key role in opening the game up for Germany by being the extra man in attack—if Germany are brave enough to do so, in the knowledge that someone else must get back into position when the ball is lost.
Where Germany Excel: Fast Play, Fast Movement
It's not all about what the Netherlands did or didn't do, of course. Germany have their own way of playing and they have improved gradually throughout the tournament, seeming to peak just at the right time.
The fluid, technical attacking line of Ozil-Kroos-Mueller doesn't just pass and score, but has excellent off-the-ball movement and the ability to rapidly exchange the ball under pressure.
Germany was better. Their ball control, movement & position play was superior. This is why I consider them the best team in the tournament— Johan Cruyff (@JohanCruyff) July 9, 2014
Argentina have tried again and again to slow the tempo, close the spaces and frustrate the opposition. Germany have the capacity to evade those numbers and make use of the small, overlooked pockets of space, swapping positions just as quickly as passes to lose their markers and create scoring opportunities.
In a competition where creativity from attacking midfielders has been a largely forgotten tactic, Germany's insistence on using two or even three of this kind of player saw them slice open Brazil and—if perhaps not to the same extent—could certainly benefit them against Argentina in the final itself.
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