Fans had to wait for four long years for the 2014 World Cup to finally arrive, and one month later, just 90 (or 120) minutes separate us from knowing who will be crowned champions following Sunday's final.
Argentina and Germany were two of the favourites for the title coming into the tournament, and while neither team has been flawless at the 2014 World Cup, they both proved their worth on their way to Sunday's final.
The Albiceleste survived a 120-minute battle with the Netherlands in the semi-final, while Germany completely obliterated hosts Brazil 7-1 to book their tickets to the Maracana.
Sunday's fixture should be a fitting conclusion to what has been one of the most exciting World Cups in recent history, with the legacies of Lionel Messi and the German Golden Generation on the line. Here's the updated 2014 World Cup bracket:
Let's have a look at the full fixture information (including odds, courtesy of OddsShark) as well as predictions ahead of Sunday's spectacle:
|July 13||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||Germany Win||-165|
Controlling Emotions Key to Victory
The storylines surrounding this World Cup final are almost too good to be true, with the media generally focusing on two angles in particular: Messi carrying this Argentine squad and his date with history against Germany's world-class team finally living up to their potential.
It's been 24 years since either of these global heavyweights lifted the World Cup trophy (West Germany last won it in 1990) and 28 since the legendary campaign that cemented Diego Maradona's position as one of the all-time greats.
Messi has a chance to do the same on Sunday, and people have been full of praise for the Barcelona forward, who has stepped up every single time his team-mates needed him in Brazil.
But those team-mates are sick and tired of hearing about Germany vs. Messi. Gonzalo Higuain told L'Equipe (h/t to Goal's Ed Dove) Die Mannschaft should fear Argentina and not just Messi:
[Germany] are always true [to themselves] in big matches, but the Germans must be equally worried, because if we are also in the final, it is because we have also done well. We will go there and we will win. People didn’t expect to see us there. Yet, however, we are there. And we can accomplish this dream of lifting the World Cup.
And it is a dream, an opportunity, a privilege. I spoke with a team-mate who told me that to play a World Cup final was something incomparable, inexplicable—and even more so if you win.
Bixente Lizarazu echoed the sentiments of many when asked about the final, though Goal's Cristian Nyari feels like the media are truly exaggerating Messi's importance:
Lizarazu: "Argentina only have Messi, Germany have a team." Hyperbole thrown around way too much ahead of the game IMO.— Cristian Nyari (@Cnyari) July 12, 2014
The Germans have been chasing silverware for years now and this current generation of players has fallen just short every single time. The criticism on the team was hard after their semi-final exit at Euro 2012, with the word "underachievers" being used very liberally.
Both teams will have the opportunity to end a World Cup drought on Sunday, which only adds to the drama. The Argentine squad want to prove they're about more than just Messi; the Germans need to prove that all of their talent isn't being wasted on campaigns that end in heartbreak.
There will be more at stake than just a title, and the final will be an emotional one. Dealing with those emotions will be vital for either side, as neither can afford to get caught up in the moment and lose sight of the tactical battle.
Sunday's Final Will Be Fast and Furious
As far as matchups go, the football gods couldn't have picked a better one for the final of a World Cup. Both teams' strengths and weaknesses line up perfectly, while the Albiceleste have the added incentive of revenge after losing to Germany in the past two tournaments.
Germany's group of central midfielders is by far the best in the world, and Argentina have struggled in that area, with Lucas Biglia not being remotely close to the level of partner Javier Mascherano.
On the flip side, Argentina can be deadly out wide, with Messi finding some success against the Netherlands by drifting to the right from his role as a deep playmaker. If he does that on Sunday, he'll see Benedikt Howedes in front of him, and the Schalke man is not a natural fit out wide.
Both teams know where they need to work the ball in order to be successful and which areas of the pitch to avoid. Those happen to be polar opposites, so expect the ball to move very quickly—regardless of who is in possession.
Brazil failed to work the ball out wide in a timely manner against Germany, and Die Mannschaft took full advantage of that, launching quick counters immediately after dispossessing Fernandinho on numerous occasions.
Similarly, Argentina can do real damage against Germany's high defensive line, particularly out wide. By playing through balls or going over the top as soon as a lane opens, Germany will be forced to sink further back as the match goes one.
Expect both teams to start at a blistering pace on Sunday, looking to exploit the opponents' weaknesses rather than avoid making mistakes of their own.