World Cup 2014 Final: Biggest X-Factors That Will Decide Germany vs. Argentina

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World Cup 2014 Final: Biggest X-Factors That Will Decide Germany vs. Argentina
Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

All eyes will be on star players like Lionel Messi and Miroslav Klose in Sunday's 2014 World Cup final between Argentina and Germany, but don't overlook the impact that less heralded footballers will make.

Game plans for both teams will certainly target the star players on each respective side, and there sure are plenty to go around. That will open things up for players less accounted for to steal the spotlight.

These players are valued on their individual teams but rarely are in the crosshairs of attention—and that will change if they can post a big performance in the most important match of their lives.

Here is a look at the biggest X-factors that will determine how Germany-Argentina unfolds.

 

Argentina

Marcos Rojo

Clive Rose/Getty Images

The Argentina defense has been unbreakable since the group stage ended, and Marcos Rojo has quietly been among the key contributors. 

Lining up at left-back, Rojo has drawn the short end of the stick by having to defend elite wingers in space. Along with help from the midfield, he's been very effective in doing so.

Rojo scored a goal and finished with the highest WhoScored.com match rating in the defensive half against Nigeria to close out the group stage. He again rated the highest among the Argentine defenders in a shutout of Switzerland and sat out against Belgium before playing the Dutch.

Against the Netherlands, Rojo was at his best. He effectively shut down Arjen Robben on the outside for much of the contest and kept his team scoreless through 120 minutes. 

But Germany will be a much tougher test, with enough talent in the midfield to send three or four attackers in at once. Whether it's Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil or even Bastian Schweinsteiger, Rojo will have his hands full. 

The 24-year-old will have to be at his best in order to shut down the attack that just hung seven goals on the hosts Brazil. 

 

Enzo Perez

Frank Augstein/Associated Press

Enzo Perez has big shoes to fill and has been thrust into the starting XI awfully late in the World Cup, but he impressed against the Dutch and will have to do the same to give Argentina an offensive boost. 

The 28-year-old was inserted as a starter after Angel Di Maria went down against Belgium in the quarterfinals. Di Maria strained a muscle and is racing to recover in time for the final, per the Associated Press' Karl Ritter, via ABC News

It's not surprising at this stage of the World Cup to see Argentina pull out all the stops to get Di Maria back, but Perez proved in the semifinal that he's capable of making an impact.

Perez was substituted off in the second half against the Netherlands but impressed the likes of ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan and AFP's Tom Williams in the process:

In the semifinal, Perez was arguably Argentina's most effective attacker. He completed 89 percent of his passes, according to WhoScored.com, and finished with just 11 fewer touches than Messi

Messi will be marked all match, and that will inevitably leave Perez open for one-on-one challenges against Germany's full-backs. 

The swift-footed attacker has the pace to make Germany's strong but slow defenders pay, and accurate passing makes him even more dangerous. Argentina will have to make Perez a key contributor in the offense to have a chance against a stout German back line. 

 

Germany

Sami Khedira

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Many parts of Germany's starting XI are expendable due to their massive depth, especially in the midfield. Sami Khedira is one of them, but he can emerge as a game-changer when on the pitch.

The 27-year-old lines up in the defensive midfield, so the bulk of his responsibilities are on the defending side. But as he has shown in stretches of this World Cup, he can be an even bigger impact on the attack.

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That has never been more on display than in Germany's semifinal against Brazil. Khedira took advantage of available space, played brilliantly alongside other German attackers and even scored one of their seven goals.

Playing next to midfielders like Ozil, Kroos and Schweinsteiger often forces Khedira to assume defensive responsibilities. But when he's a part of the attack, it simply puts too many Germans in the attacking third for many teams to handle.

Argentina are going to be worlds better on defense than the Brazilians were, but they could get steamrolled if Khedira is again playing at his best. It just gives Germany too many quality attackers to deal with at once. 

 

Benedikt Howedes

Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

Schalke defender Benedikt Howedes has come up big for the Germans in this World Cup, straying away from his regular centre-back position to line up at left-back. If Howedes and manager Joachim Low aren't careful, it could be an area of weakness against the Argentines.

Left-backs who have the pace to join the attack and stay with quick wingers are growing more and more popular, but Howedes has gone against the grain. He's played every minute of Germany's World Cup final run. 

Howedes was at his best in shutting down France's Mathieu Valbuena in their quarterfinal, in which the defender received an 8.0 match rating from WhoScored.com—good for second on the team behind Mats Hummels, who scored the only goal.

Against Argentina, Howedes will once again be forced to mark a fast-paced winger on the Argentine right-hand side. Ezequiel Lavezzi has yet to make a big impact on the World Cup, but the mismatch of his pace against Howedes' stay-at-home play might be Argentina's best opportunity at exposing the Germans.

The weak points in this great German side are few and far between, and Howedes has proven through this World Cup that he's not one of them. He'll need to prove that one more time.

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