Two of the absolute favourites for the title will go head-to-head at the Maracana on Sunday, as Germany and Argentina get ready for the final of the 2014 World Cup.
Both teams made it out of the group stages relatively easily and ran into little difficulty during the knockout stages, although the Albiceleste needed penalties to get past the Netherlands in the semi-final.
Die Mannschaft obliterated hosts Brazil 7-1 in their semi-final clash, and morale will undoubtedly be at an all-time high in Joachim Low's squad.
The German Golden Generation is ready to make good on their potential, but they'll need to get past a strong Argentine team to become the first European team to be crowned world champions on South American soil.
Germany's assistant coach Hansi Flick says his team will look at how the Netherlands neutralized the Argentine threat in the semi-finals, and that Die Mannschaft have a plan to stop Lionel Messi, per Goal's Harry West:
We saw how the Dutch managed to keep Messi out, but we too have a special plan for him, although I won't give that away.We're looking forward to meeting a compact, organised team and in Messi, they have one of the outstanding players of the tournament.
We know plenty about Argentina, Germany has to accept the role of favourites, but the final will write its own script.
Thomas Mueller reminded everyone he has never lost a competitive match against the forward, according to Bundesliga Spotlight:
Thomas Muller: "It'll be very important to push ourselves to the limit, especially defensively. You need to be quick to keep up with Messi."— Bundesliga Spotlight (@BundesligaSpot) July 11, 2014
Argentina's Sergio Aguero told Sky Sports (for Fox Sports) that Germany are the favourites going into the final, but that his team are looking forward to playing the match as underdogs:
Germany were always the favorites, along with Brazil, to win the World Cup. They continue to be so now. We need to play our own game and it suits us that all the pressure is on them. We are in the final and we have to play it and win it in whatever way possible. We want to have control of the ball, but we know that Germany is a great team that know each other off by heart having played together for many years. It is clear that Argentina always go out to win, but sometimes during the game you have to be cautious. We are all aware of what the objective is and we will leave everything on the field to achieve it.
Argentine coach Alejandro Sabella told reporters the same thing, emphasising Germany had an extra day of rest and didn't have to play a match as physically demanding as Argentina did in the semi-finals, per FIFA.com:
Some of our players are sore, beaten, tired - the results of a war, so to speak. We have a final to play, with one day less to prepare and against a team like Germany, but with work, humility and seriousness, we'll do all we can to make it all the way to the top.
Germany throughout their entire history have always shown physical might, tactical, mental prowess, and have always had players with a certain South American touch. The match is extremely difficult and I repeat the fact they haven't played extra time and we've played two, and played one day after Germany. Germany is always a very difficult hurdle to overcome.
We'll see if it's a minor issue, the fact we played after and the Germany game was decided in the first 45 minutes, so they could ease off in the second half, whereas we had to spend all the effort, and every last drop of sweat to reach the World Cup final.
It's easy to just point at Germany's semi-final dominance and predict a win for Die Mannschaft, with Argentina still not looking their best even this late in the tournament.
It's a testament to the individual brilliance of the Albiceleste that they've come this far without playing their best football. They've found the net at the right time consistently and don't give up much space near their own box, indicating the defence has improved vastly since the start of the tournament.
Germany have the advantage when it comes to fitness, coming into the match with an extra day of rest and on the back of what was essentially a walk in the park against Brazil.
But as great as Germany looked in that semi-final, it's important to note that match was effectively over once Brazil switched off for nine minutes, allowing five easy goals in that span. Germany looked great, but they were greatly helped by a freakish occurrence the likes of which we'll probably never see again.
Die Mannschaft have won the last two contests between these teams and should have the upper hand in the midfield battle, although Javier Mascherano has quietly put together a phenomenal World Cup campaign.
The Albiceleste are lethal in space, however, and with plenty of pace in the wide areas they could take advantage of Germany's main weakness—a lack of mobility on the back line. Per Mertesacker moves at glacier speeds and Benedict Howedes isn't a natural full-back, opening the door for Argentina to beat them over the top.
But at the end of the day, the German team is a more balanced unit with rest and form on its side. Manuel Neuer has been phenomenal in goal and Mueller keeps scoring seemingly at will. Germany should be able to beat a Messi-led Argentina, and on Sunday, they will.