World Cup Fixtures 2014: Players to Watch in Final

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World Cup Fixtures 2014: Players to Watch in Final
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

It's hard to top the star power at this year's World Cup final. Both teams are stacked with talents, and many of the top professional leagues across Europe will be represented as well.

Germany is basically Bayern Munich-lite, with a touch of Arsenal and Real Madrid in the mix, among other clubs, while Argentina has quite the La Liga and Premier League flair to its squad as well.

But a few players should stand out above the rest. Along with taking a look at the remaining fixtures at the World Cup, let's break down the key figures from each squad.
 

Fixtures

World Cup Schedule
Matchup Date Time Watch Stream
Brazil vs. Netherlands Saturday, July 12 4 p.m. ESPN WatchESPN
Germany vs. Argentina Sunday, July 13 3 p.m. ABC WatchESPN

 

The German Midfield Trio

Witters Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, Thomas Mueller leads the team in goals. Yes, Miroslav Klose set the World Cup goalscoring record. Yes, Philipp Lahm is the captain and Germany have basically looked unbeatable since he's moved back to right-back. 

But none are the most important players for Germany. No, that distinction belongs to the midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Kroos in particular has impressed, as Raphael Honigstein of ESPN FC wrote:

Against Brazil in this World Cup semifinal, Kroos had so many big moments that he's almost being seen as a different player—a bigger player. 'Germany has a new world-class player,' Der Tagesspiegel wrote.

'It was probably one of my better games,' Kroos said, with typical lack of passion. Low has praised the importance of Kroos' impulses in the German midfield. His colleagues have to accommodate him, not vice versa. Mesut Ozil made way, playing a more peripheral role on the flanks. Kroos also takes all free kicks and corners, with devastating effect. Germany have scored five goals from his dead-ball situations at this tournament.

Indeed, the three absolutely skewered Brazil, pressing forward to win the ball back, combining on crisp, incisive passes that moved the play forward and generally dominating the center of the pitch in the semifinals. Granted, the Brazilians didn't exactly close down the spaces, but the German trio in the center of the pitch still ran the game like they were playing a pickup match against a few kids in the park. 

Take a look back at all of the goals Germany scored in that game, via ESPN FC, and you'll see the German midfield playing a major part in most of them:

It certainly won't be as easy to boss the midfield against Argentina, but you can bet that if Germany win the World Cup title, these three will play the defining role in the victory. 

 

Lionel Messi

USA TODAY Sports

Duh.

The world's best player is also Argentina's player and is, arguably, the only player in the entire tournament capable of completely dictating an opponent's game plan. He completely altered the Dutch approach, forcing players like Wesley Sneijder to drop further back in defense than normal, which in turn left attackers like Arjen Robben isolated and without service for large chunks of the game.

That has led many to question Messi's performance in this World Cup. But that's just silly—not only is Messi seeing defenses stacked against him, he's also playing a different role for Argentina than he does for Barcelona, where he's utilized as a False Nine. For Argentina, he's a No. 10, asked to facilitate the attack as much as finish off those attacks with goals.

Germany won't be so deferential to Messi's talents—they'll look to press further up the pitch than the Netherlands and dictate the pace of play rather than sink into a defensive shell—but they will need to be constantly aware of the Barcelona man in the middle of the pitch. 

No player can do more with less, or change the game instantly quite like Messi can. Just ask Iran and Switzerland. 

 

Manuel Neuer

Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Germany have played a high line at this year's World Cup, as they look to press forward and win the ball back in their opponent's half. While it has been an effective strategy, it has also meant that the team has needed to rely on keeper Manuel Neuer to operate as a de facto sweeper, cleaning up any messes that managed to sneak behind the German defense. 

Frankly, Neuer has been brilliant in the role, notably against Iran when he essentially played keeper and all four defensive positions at one time or another.

Argentina has far more dangerous attackers than most teams, however, so if they can break the German press and quickly shuffle the ball forward toward Lionel Messi or Gonzalo Higuain behind the German defense, Neuer will again be called upon to thwart the danger and clear the ball to safety. 

He's certainly up to the task.

 

Javier Mascherano

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Messi is Argentina's best player. For large chunks of this tournament, he's been their most important player, too. But the glue that has held this team together has been defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano.

He's supported the back four. He's won the ball back. He's played key passes and kept things calm in the middle of the pitch. You could make an argument that if Argentina win the final, he's deserving of winning the Golden Ball. 

And yes, the competition have taken note, per Miguel Delaney of ESPN:

He'll have quite the task, waging battle against Kroos and company. But the Barcelona man has wreaked havoc thus far in the tournament, so Germany would be wise to not underestimate his prowess. 

 

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