World Cup 2010: Argentina vs. Germany Pits Individual Skill vs. 'Teamgeist'
As Germany and Argentina prepare to faceoff in a rematch of their 2006 quarterfinal game, I look ahead to the tactical style of their coaches and analyse their performances in this World Cup.
They're a team of superstars.
Lionel Messi, Juan Sebastian Veron, Gabriel Heinze, Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain represent a portion of Argentina's potency. These are more household names than are represented in the young German squad in its entirety, and it is not a complete list.
The Argentinian coach himself is an A-List footballing celebrity, while his German counterpart is a soft-spoken and unassuming man who, as a player, never reached a quarter of the heights experienced by Diego Maradona.
So far this tournament, many of Argentina's best goals have come from individual brilliance. Higuain rounding the Mexican keeper and Tevez's screamer in the same match to name two.
This is not to say that Argentina do not pass. Far from it, they can be a very fluid team. It is saying that many of their best elements come from their individual superiority over their opponents.
Their players ply their trades in some of Europe's top teams and they are all key players within their own systems. They are accustomed to player-on-player superiority when they line up with Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Inter-Milan, the teams which represent the top teams of the various leagues.
For Argentina long, drawn out passing moves seem superfluous when instead Messi can simply beat a man one-on-one to make the same amount of space and ground.
While the defences suddenly converge on an oncoming Messi, he has the luxury of choice. He can send it wide to one of the skillful wingers, or send it forward to one of the skillful strikers. Why pass the ball 25 times when Messi can do the work of 25 passes by himself?
One minor point is the idea that superstars are, by definition, well known. Everyone knows Tevez will chase everything, that Higuian will loiter dangerously around the German penalty area, that Messi will look to beat his man.
But how much does Maradona know about the German players, several of whom have very few caps, and who have only just played their first full seasons at club level?
The Argentinian system has worked so far, and indeed may work again and again on the way to the final. It is a good system which caters to the star power of the team. Put simply, Argentina can play like this because they have the pool of players to choose from who are all able to play to it. Argentina has a perfect record so far, so it must be a functional system.
The Argentinians clearly have strong team unity, the videos of their training sessions show a bond between management and player which may well be unique.
Maradona's tactical inexperience means, though, that they do not play complicated passing moves because he does not require it of them, and the team dynamic clearly revolves around a strong base of skillful players doing their thing.
Germany do not have the same level of choice regarding their national pool, and play a manner of stark difference to Argentina. The reason that the team is so young is because an injury crisis hit the German squad during the season. That said, the youth players have proven themselves extremely well.
Loew favours attack, and he has concocted a team capable of attacking effectively. The German team went into the World Cup with a distinct lack of star power. Every single member of the squad plays in the Bundesliga and many of them only had a few caps to their names going into the World Cup.
Loew has looked at the players available and created a tactic that plays to their strengths. There was a surplus of attacking midfielders, so Loew dropped a striker and implemented a three man attack from behind lone tournament specialist Miroslav Klose.
It worked. Loew's system has worked around that fact that he has players willing to work hard, and a couple capable of a moment of magic.
It is not Xavi who is leading the pass completion table, but German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger. 20 year old attacker Thomas Mueller has three goals to his name. Club level enigma Lukas Podolski has found the form he saves for international level and chipped in with two goals. He scored three all club season.
Germany do not have the mass of players who can beat a man one-on-one or change the face of a game in an instant, but they do have hours of technique training drilled into them. This training means that every member of the squad is an assured passer and receiver of the ball, and Germany play to this.
Against England three of the four goals came about from swift and efficient passing, two on the counter, and one of supreme passing and movement, drawing defenders out and leaving opponents isolated.
The German midfield are always available to receive the ball, the attacking midfielders drift wide and narrow, sometimes switching positions. There is no headlong rush forwards, but a calm and measured approach, the final ball will only be released when there is someone already making a run. The German youth have footballing minds. They are intelligent enough to be where they need to be.
The German team play for each other, the way they celebrate together shows a real unity of belief and intent, and they clearly believe in one another. This element, held strongly in German teams, can help to overcome obstacles, including a team of individually skillful players like Argentina.
This will be the hardest test for both of these teams so far, Argentina will not have come up against such a solid team unit as the Germans, while Germany won't have faced such skilled individuals.
The tactical decisions which we cannot know until the game, like how Germany will deal with Messi, or how either of the teams focus focus on countering the other are key, and because of this I will not offer a prediction.
Though I will say that the game will be an intriguing mix of styles, and that both teams will enter the game confident of their own victory, and without fear of the other.
Are you brave enough to predict a score?
Which system offers a better chance for victory, a strong team or world beating individuals? Will Loew's tactical noose be able to contain the Argentinian attack, or will Maradona be able to plan around him?
Let me know below.
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