The single most important match in all of football is finally upon us, as Germany and Argentina prepare for the 2014 World Cup final at the Maracana stadium on Sunday.
With two of the biggest and most storied teams in the sport, the final truly is a dream fixture for the neutral observers—the German football machine against the individual brilliance of the Albiceleste and their star forward, Lionel Messi.
The World Cup is all about getting the best players on the planet on the same pitch, and on Sunday, that's exactly what'll happen. Let's take a look at both teams' form heading into the match and go over the injury reports ahead of the big showdown.
Germany: Mats Hummels Should Play, Jerome Boateng Might Not
Die Mannschaft's injury concerns are concentrated on the defence, with the central duo of Hummels and Boateng both walking away from the 7-1 win over Brazil with bumps and bruises.
According to AS, the former should be good to go, although he might still feel the effects of a muscle problem. Boateng has a problem with his adductor, however, and his availability is a major question mark.
Arsenal's Per Mertesacker is the likely replacement for Boateng, but the towering centre-back lacks mobility, something Germany's defence will sorely need against the quick, mobile Argentine squad.
Hummels' knee injury has been plaguing the Borussia Dortmund man all tournament, and he only played the first half of Germany's semi-final against Brazil. As he told reporters, the pain appears to be getting worse, per The Independent's Joe Krishnan:
I’ve had problems with it for a few days. But for the first time it didn’t go away after warm-ups. In the match it got worse and worse.
I made the decision that it’s perhaps better to take myself out so that I wouldn’t break anything. We’ll have to see exactly what it is.
It’s not something tiny but fortunately I don’t think it’s anything that would endanger Sunday.
The centre-back has been training with the team for the past few days, and he should start the World Cup final. His effectiveness in that match will remain a question mark, however.
Argentina: Angel Di Maria Might Play After All
Argentina's biggest injury concern is undoubtedly winger Di Maria, who was forced to leave the pitch in the quarter-finals against Belgium and hasn't seen any action since.
According to Spanish football insider Sergi Dominguez, that might change on Sunday:
Massive boost for La Albiceleste. Reports say Di Maria has recovered well & is fit enough to start tomorrow.— Sergi Domínguez (@FutbolSergi) July 12, 2014
The Real Madrid star went through a light training session on Thursday and has been steadily improving, and if needed could potentially start on Sunday.
Whether he will is a whole other matter. While Di Maria's pure pace and trickery out wide are a big asset to the team, Enzo Perez has been more than solid as his replacement. If Di Maria can't get close to 100 percent, starting Perez might be the safer option for Alejandro Sabella.
When it was revealed Di Maria had found his way on the Golden Ball shortlist, football pundits were shocked. BeIN Sports Andy Kerr was one of them:
Did I read that correctly. Angel Di Maria short listed for the Golden Ball? Really??— Andy Kerr (@AndyKerrtv) July 12, 2014
The winger hasn't exactly lit it up at the 2014 World Cup, and unless he's fully fit and ready to use all of his pace against a staunch German defence, going with Perez would be wiser.
You don't make it to the final of the World Cup without form on your side, but that doesn't mean both teams are coming into this match the same way.
Argentina have looked very unconvincing at times, winning all of their matches by a single goal (or via penalty shootout in the semi-finals). Germany were ruthlessly effective against Brazil and Portugal, but they were greatly aided by both teams' in-match collapses.
Of the two teams, Germany has looked both the most dominant and the most vulnerable. The way they handled a one-goal lead against France was impressive, and it covered up the issues the team displayed against both Ghana and Algeria.
When they're clicking, Die Mannschaft are close to unbeatable. But they haven't always clicked during the tournament, and should they miss their start against Argentina, they're comparatively short of options off the bench to change things up in the attacking department.
Argentina may not have dominated teams in the way the Germans have, but they've shown little signs of weakness. Nigeria was able to pressure the defence and force mistakes, but the Albiceleste have been able to overcome adversity during every stage of the tournament so far.
Messi has stepped up to the plate when the team was in need of some magic every single time, while the likes of Javier Mascherano and Pablo Zabaleta have only gotten better with each and every match.
The early stages of the final will most likely determine which teams we will see, and if Die Mannschaft can keep up the level of play they've shown in their last two matches, they should have the advantage in both form and momentum.