Which Germany Star Will Be the Matthaus to Messi's Maradona?

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Which Germany Star Will Be the Matthaus to Messi's Maradona?
Associated Press

History has a tendency to repeat itself in football. In 1986, West Germany and Argentina met for the first time in the World Cup final.

The Albiceleste, led by Diego Maradona, beat Lothar Matthaus' Nationalmannschaft 3-2. Four years later, the two sides met again on the same stage. This time, it was Matthaus and the Germans who came out on top following a 1-0 win.

The individual battle between Matthaus and Maradona was crucial to the results of the 1986 and 1990 finals. The German central midfielder nullified his opposite for most of the 1986 final, but it was Maradona who had the final say, his inspired through pass assisting Jorge Burruchaga's late winner.

In 1990, the Argentine forward was unable to make a positive effect, with Andreas Brehme's late penalty enough to lift West Germany to the title with many thanks to the heroic defending of Matthaus.

Maradona and Matthaus were natural rivals. They were the same age, the former an attacker and the latter more defense-minded.

They met twice during their prime (at ages 25 and 29) in World Cup finals and had enormous respect for one another. In his memoir, Yo Soy el Diego, Maradona recalls Matthaus as "the best rival [he had] ever had." Three years after his own retirement, the Argentine turned out for Matthaus' testimonial.

Now, 24 years later, Germany and Argentina are set to square off in their third World Cup final meeting.

Sunday's clash is steeped in history. And as it was the last time Germany and Argentina met in a final, the Albiceleste are heavily reliant on an under-1.70 meter, agile, left-footed forward whose dribbling ability is miles ahead of that of any other footballer on the planet.

They have Lionel Messi.

The comparisons between Maradona and Messi have been made since the latter was a very young player. Their physical, technical and stylistic similarities are uncanny.

But when a 19-year-old Messi scored a goal against Getafe that looked a near-identical copy of Maradona's legendary run and goal against England at the 1986 World Cup, the similarities were just too uncanny.

Weeks later, Messi scored with his left hand, emulating Maradona's famous "hand of God" goal. Just as with his predecessor, the Barcelona man's goal was not called back for a clear case of handball.

Now 27 years of age, Messi has led his Argentina side to the World Cup final for the first time. He's played a direct role in five of the team's eight goals thus far and can cement his place in history alongside Maradona if Argentina are to win Sunday's final.

As of now, the one record the retired legend has that his successor lacks is a World Cup title. That could change.

Ricardo Mazalan/Associated Press

Germany thus far have relied on more of a collective effort. Thomas Mueller has provided an outstanding five goals and three assists in the World Cup, but the Nationalmannschaft have benefited from heroics by Manuel Neuer and Mats Hummels, as well as the leadership of Philipp Lahm and moments of magic from Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira to advance to the final.

To complete the analogy, and perhaps in order to beat Argentina, Germany may need their new Matthaus to step forward.

On the opposite side of the pitch, Sami Khedira fits the bill to an extent. The Real Madrid man is, at 27, the same age as Messi and, like Matthaus, is a box-to-box central midfielder with superlative athleticism. He's a leader and a supremely intelligent player who knows what he can and cannot do.

The problem is that he is a more limited player than Matthaus, who was known for scoring some incredible goals. There's a reason why Matthaus is, at 150 caps, the most-used player in the history of the German national team. Khedira has just 51 caps.

Next to Khedira is Bastian Schweinsteiger, who ticks the leadership and experience boxes at least better than his defensive midfield partner. The Bayern Munich man has 107 caps and, just shy of his 30th birthday, has a reasonable chance of surpassing Matthaus' record before he retires.

He is Germany's vice-captain and a vocal leader from the midfield. But although very physically strong, he doesn't quite have the athletic supremacy of Matthaus.

Moving on to the more obscure comparisons, there is Mueller. An entirely different player in terms of position, stature and age, the versatile attacker would at first seem to have nothing in common with Matthaus. But what he does have more than any of his teammates (and much like Matthaus did as a player) is an incredible drive to win.

Although limited to an extent by his technical abilities, Mueller seems always to find a way to make his mark, at least when it matters. He's scored five and assisted three goals at the World Cup, playing a direct part in the opener in five of Germany's six games.

Realistically speaking, there will be no one player who can be all that Matthaus was to the German team. He may be the best central midfielder ever to play football; players like him are at best once-in-a-century talents.

Whereas Argentina are fortunate enough to have had two such talents emerge in a span of about 20 years, Germany will have to rely upon a collective effort.

The team is the star of Joachim Low's squad, and leadership from Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm, physicality from Khedira and Mats Hummels, and sheer desire to win from Mueller and Manuel Neuer will be the keys to success if Germany are to win the World Cup.

Germany are more than a star, they're a team. And that leaves them favorites to be named world champions for a fourth time.

 

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