Germany will meet Argentina in the final of the 2014 World Cup. Both teams took a very different last step to reach the game.
Germany's progress was all about the breathtaking style they displayed in brushing aside host nation Brazil in the semi-final. The Germans won by the eye-popping score of 7-1.
By contrast, Argentina booked a place in the final only after outlasting the Netherlands. The Argentines won 4-2 on penalties after a dire and goalless sleeper in normal time.
But regardless of how they made it, both teams now have the chance to erase some pretty tough recent history in this tournament. The Germans haven't lifted the trophy since 1990, when they beat Argentina by a single goal. Meanwhile, the South American nation last claimed the prize four years earlier, beating West Germany, 3-2, in the 1986 final.
Before delving into some of the specifics of this game, here's some relevant schedule information:
Date: Sunday, July 13
Start Time: 8 p.m. BST, 3 p.m. ET
One of the most intriguing aspects of this final is its venue. The game will be played at the home of Brazilian football, one of the world's most famous stadiums.
The Estadio Maracana, positioned in the capital city Rio de Janeiro, is the perfect venue for the final. It is a daunting stadium with a storied history.
The Maracana is most famous for being the venue for perhaps the most painful result in Brazilian football history. It came in the final of the 1950 World Cup.
The stadium had been constructed for the sole purpose of hosting that final, as a fitting stage for a Brazilian triumph. However, Uruguay, Brazil's opponent on the day, decided to tear the script to shreds.
Uruguay bested Brazil, 2-1, a result that left a wound on the nation's football psyche that has never properly healed. The emotion that reverberated around the Maracana that day was captured brilliantly in this archived report from The Guardian:
Uruguay to-day won the Jules Rimet World Cup for Association football for the second time in the short history of the championship. She fought back after being a goal down, equalised, and then took the lead, leaving the world's record crowd of nearly 200,000 Brazilian fans completely dumbfounded and bewildered. After their team's overwhelming wins over Sweden and Spain in the first two matches of the final pool, the Brazilians had not entertained a thought of defeat. So certain were the Brazilians of victory that they had already written and recorded a victory samba entitled "Brazil the Victoria."
The Brazilian players, who had expected to obtain gold medals and thousands of pounds as a bonus for a win, walked slowly off the field, their heads bowed low. Some women in the huge white and blue concrete municipal stadium were prostrate with grief. The stadium announcer was so thunderstruck he forgot to broadcast the final result of the other match between Spain and Sweden to decide minor placings. It did not matter. None in the vast crowd cared.
Ironically, this final could again produce the same dazed-and-confused grief for many Brazil supporters. The sight of bitter continent rivals Argentina lifting the trophy on the Maracana pitch would ensure that.
Of course, that's a distinct possibility, given the star-studded talent in the Argentina squad, particularly in attack. The Germans were irrepressible in the semi-final, but even they will struggle to contain Gonzalo Higuain and Lionel Messi.
The latter is the most likely to inspire victory. It's a victory that would be unforgettable for both Argentina and the host nation, according to BBC Sport scribe Phil McNulty:
Neither set of supporters would ever forget the image of Messi taking possession of the World Cup in an arena rich in the history of Brazil's own number 10s such as Pele, Zico and latterly Neymar. It would be as close to perfection as was winning it in their own River Plate Stadium against the Dutch in 1978.
Unfortunately for Brazilians, Messi's current form could easily lead him to hoisting the World Cup trophy high in the Maracana. It certainly is a cruel twist of fate that Brazil's most famous stadium could end up housing the country's two biggest moments of football ignominy.
But for that to happen, Argentina must win one key battle during Sunday's final.
Javier Mascherano vs. Sami Khedira Will Determine the Final
As it does for most games, control of the midfield will determine this final. Whichever nation ultimately establishes control of the middle will depend on the performances of Javier Mascherano and Sami Khedira.
Both are natural midfield powerhouses, but in different ways. Mascherano uses his aggressive streak, strength and positional sense to be a peerless destroyer in deep areas.
He is a master at disrupting forward raids with well-timed tackles. He was probably his nation's best player during the semi-final war of attrition with the Dutch:
Mascherano played a pivotal tactical role. He often dropped very deep and occupied space between centre-backs Ezequiel Garay and Martin Demichelis. Argentina like to deploy split centre-backs, and that is something the quick-breaking Dutch ruthlessly exploited in their 5-1 demolition of Spain in the group stage.
But with Mascherano as an extra layer of cover, attackers such as Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben found little joy.
Mascherano will need to be just as defensively aware against a German side that attacks via quick-witted passing combinations. Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and others destroy opponents with rapid exchanges dovetailed to clever movement.
Khedira is a surprising extra element in that dynamic. His seemingly limitless energy gives Germany a spare man, both going forward and in defence.
It was in advanced areas that the Real Madrid man was most effective against Brazil. Pete Sharland of Squawka.com detailed how Khedira's forward breaks helped Germany dominate the host nation:
With Lahm at right back like he was in the quarter-final against France Khedira played as the energy in the German midfield with Schweinsteiger sitting deeper and marking Oscar out of the game and Kroos more advanced, conducting the symphony.
With Fernandinho often missing in action Khedira was at liberty to make his penetrating runs forward and he did so with great effect, his heat map demonstrating just how mobile he was. Khedira’s passing was a healthy 87% and he created two chances but the assist he registered was a moment of pure composure.
If Khedira is allowed to run free at the Maracana, Mascherano and the Argentina defence will soon be overwhelmed. That will let Germany saunter to victory.
Expect a close final at the Maracana. The intense occasion will certainly feature a partisan, anti-Argentina crowd, with every Brazil fan who is able willing Germany to victory.
However, if Messi is at his best, there will be more football heartache for Brazilians at their iconic stadium.
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