It's almost cruel to football fans how the 2014 World Cup has just flown by after a gruelling four-year wait. Germany and Argentina are set to battle it out in the final on Sunday, the conclusion to what has been a tournament for the ages.
Drama, controversy, upsets and plenty of goals were the order of business in 2014, a sharp contrast to the relatively boring campaign witnessed four years ago. Two of the most creative and attacking teams are left standing, and it looks like this year's World Cup will go out with a bang.
Here's the schedule for Sunday's fixture, complete with the final odds, courtesy of OddsShark:
|July 13||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Germany Win||-165|
Argentina Won't Play Like Underdogs
The message coming from the Albiceleste ahead of the final is clear: Germany are the favourites. Sergio Aguero said as much, as reported by Sky Sports (for Fox Sports):
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.
Die Mannschaft didn't have to go as deep in their semi-final as Argentina did, playing extra time against the Netherlands. They also had an extra day of rest, which could be a factor in the Brazilian climate.
Germany's game is built around possession, pushing their opponents back into their own box and constantly seeking passing lanes out wide or through the centre.
But the Albiceleste have the most in-form holding midfielder in the tournament in Javier Mascherano, and they won't just allow the Germans to do what they do best. Don't expect Argentina to rival Die Mannschaft for possession—rather, expect them to look forward early and often.
Most teams that play Germany are just happy to hold possession for a while, playing the ball laterally before launching over the top. Argentina have the speed to take advantage of the through ball, and they'll be looking to keep the ball moving as quickly as possible.
With Lionel Messi's passing ability and a multitude of dangerous players out wide, Argentina have the quality to pressure the German defence and disrupt their game plan. Expect Sabella to open up his formation a little bit and not just rely on the counter.
No Man Marking For Messi
During the first half of Argentina's semi-final match against the Netherlands, Nigel de Jong seemed to always be around the ball every time it came near Messi. Fans and commentators were quick to point out the Dutchman's man marking of the mercurial forward. They were also very wrong.
Man marking has become a rarity in 2014, and we've hardly seen it during the World Cup. De Jong was usually the first man to engage Messi, but that doesn't mean he was tasked with following him like a shadow—engaging the ball carrier just happens to be his job.
With the way the German midfield lines up, there's every chance Bastian Schweinsteiger will be the closest player to Messi every time the latter drops deep, with Sami Khedira arriving in support. But Die Mannschaft believe in their own quality, and while they will no doubt account for Messi, they won't fear him.
As shared by Bundesliga Spotlight, Thomas Mueller likes his team's chances against the pint-sized forward:
Once you start assigning particular players to Messi (or any other player on the pitch), you're essentially handcuffing yourself. Germany's midfield is constantly in motion, and they simply can't afford to drop one of their components for the sake of neutralizing an opponent.
It probably wouldn't even work; Messi is too quick in space and has the technical ability to simply run past you with the ball at his feet, opening up huge passing lanes for the wingers to cut into. It's how Angel Di Maria found himself wide open against Switzerland, and Germany won't be making that mistake.
Final pick: Germany 2-1 Argentina