The key players for the 2014 World Cup final between Germany and Argentina can be found in midfield. Both teams boast tremendous strength in the middle, although that respective strength is expressed in different ways.
For Argentina the phrase "strength" can be taken literally. Players such as Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia and Fernando Gago are classic enforcers. They thrive thanks to their robust approach to disrupting opposition attacks.
At the other end of the spectrum, Germany's midfield provides a stark contrast. The area is populated by players defined by their technical excellence. Skill, energy and creativity are the qualities stars such as Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger contribute.
Both teams also possess marquee forwards, such as Argentina duo Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero. Attempting to counter their efforts will be prolific Germany pairing Thomas Mueller and Miroslav Klose.
But despite the talent up front, it's the midfield battle that will determine this final. Here's a closer look at two of the key players to watch:
Mesut Ozil, Germany
Mesut Ozil has been chided for some quiet performances during this World Cup. However, the long-standing problem of many expecting dynamism from this languid star has belied much of the good work he has done.
The Arsenal attacking midfielder has actually been a vital component of Germany's forward line. He has provided his usual strong creative influence:
It's so often easy to overlook what Ozil does best, due in part to his leisurely approach to many aspects of the game. But as the above statistic proves, he comes alive in the danger areas.
Ozil's craft and intelligence are invaluable to the way Germany build their attacks. He often makes a telling contribution to a wonderfully clever passing move that results in a goal.
His brilliant reversed return pass to set up teammate Sami Khedira for an easy goal in the semi-final rout of Brazil provided a prime example of Ozil's significance to this team.
He has started most matches at this tournament in a nominal wide role as part of Germany's fluid attacking-midfield trio. It's a good starting position because it takes Ozil out of the congested middle and provides him with greater license to roam.
If Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella doesn't have a plan for corralling Ozil, the stylish playmaker will punish the South Americans.
Javier Mascherano, Argentina
Sabella's best hope of stifling Ozil and Germany's other gifted schemers resides with Mascherano. The powerful destroyer was his nation's best player during the war of attrition in the semi-final against the Netherlands.
Mascherano flourished as an additional defensive layer, something Sabella's team is likely to need again to thwart a rampant German team. Mascherano's value is well known to the Germans, as Schweinsteiger has pointed out, per Steve Brenner of The Sunday Express:
We have to keep our cool, stay calm and patient. Argentina are an excellent side who deserve to be in the final. They have world-class players in Messi, Di Maria and Mascherano.
Mascherano was the leader of a pack of wolves. I remember the last minute against Holland when he tackled Robben and stopped him scoring. That shows his attitude.
It will certainly not be easy for us, but I’m quite convinced that, if we are able to play to our potential, we can beat even such a top-class team.
Germany's best bet for nullifying Mascherano's influence will be to move the ball quickly. If Schweinsteiger and company can swarm around him in numbers and recycle possession at speed, Argentina's enforcer in the middle will be bypassed.
That would create plenty of space for Germany to craft the kind of intricate moves in and around the box that overwhelmed Brazil.
Sabella would be smart to support Mascherano with a deep-lying partner. That would be the best way of disrupting the flow of German passes through midfield.
If that happens, the Argentines will have more opportunities to quickly get the ball up to Messi and let him weave some magic.
Can Khedira Boost His Transfer Value?
Germany and Real Madrid midfield linchpin Sami Khedira is currently a wanted man. Premier League side Arsenal are keen on signing him, per BBC Sport presenter Gary Lineker:
If AFC wrap up deals with Alexis Sanchez & Debuchy, & get Khedira, which I hear is possible, they could well win the title.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) July 10, 2014
Meanwhile, Arsenal's London rivals Chelsea are also expressing interest, according to Daily Mirror reporters John Cross and Darren Lewis.
The level of interest is understandable, considering how well Khedira has played in Brazil. He was superb in the 7-1 thumping of the hosts, showcasing his seemingly limitless energy, natural power and underrated technical competence.
He is currently being valued at more than £20 million, per Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph. However, with interest building, a stellar showing in the final will increase that value.
Madrid would certainly take it as an incentive to raise the price and start a bidding war.
Can Lionel Messi Join the Game's Greatest Ever Players?
Lionel Messi cementing his legacy alongside Argentine great Diego Maradona by winning a World Cup has to be one the major talking points of this final.
Messi is an incredible talent, easily the best player in the game today. However, his relatively indifferent form at international tournaments has always prompted doubts about whether he is an all-time great.
The comparisons to Maradona, the maverick icon who propelled Argentina to the trophy in 1986, have been frequent and intense. Writing for The Telegraph, pundit Alan Hansen believes this final is Messi's last chance to prove he merits those comparisons:
If he wants to ensure those comparisons with Maradona are justified, Messi must seize his chance on the grandest stage of all and produce a world-class performance.
At times in this tournament he has been excellent, but there have been other games where he was very rarely seen.
He will be 31 by the time of the next World Cup and this could be his last, and best, chance to prove he deserves to be mentioned as one of the greatest ever players.
Hansen rightly believes Messi must show he can deliver his best even when opponents are focusing heavy numbers to try and stop him, as Germany might:
German assistant Flick: - We have a plan how to control Messi. But I won't tell you the plan.— Jan Aage Fjortoft (@JanAageFjortoft) July 10, 2014
But after bagging four goals at this tournament, Messi is one game away from matching his notorious predecessor's legacy. Although he may not have always shone at international level, it would be brave to bet against Messi being at his best in the biggest game of his life.
Count on Messi making an impact in this final. If what has been a resolute Argentine defence can control Germany's midfield runners, Messi could make the decisive contribution.