For the third time in history, Germany and Argentina will square off in the final of the most prestigious sporting event on the planet. Argentina hope to continue the line of South American teams winning in their own continent, with all seven tournaments in South America ending with Uruguay, Argentina or Brazil as champion. Germany will try to break the trend, and arguably look in the best position to do so. The previous two meetings between these two sides occurred in back-to-back tournaments between 1986 and 1990, with Argentina winning the former, and West Germany the latter. These two teams have also met at the previous two World Cups, with Germany eliminating Argentina at the quarter-final stage in both tournaments. But despite the historical background surrounding this match, this final is incredibly unique.
Germany came to Brazil as second favorites behind the host nation, but after they humiliated the Selecao 7-1 in the first semifinal, the Germans arrive in Rio as clear favorites. Argentina have barely made it to this final, unconvincingly winning five matches by one goal before dispatching Netherlands via penalties in the other semifinal. Germany have had their own scares in this tournament, coming from behind to draw Ghana 2-2 in the group stage and taking Algeria to extra time in the round of sixteen. After Brazil’s failure to reach the final, their arch-rivals Argentina making it through means all of Brazil will back Germany, despite the extent to which Die Mannschaft humiliated them.
If the German team is fit, the Argentinians are anything but. After the grueling affair on Wednesday, Argentina’s injury list only got longer with Pablo Zabaleta and Javier Mascherano suffering head injuries and Marco Rojo and Lucas Biglia picking up knocks after some heavy challenges. These are in addition to Angel Di Maria’s thigh injury and Sergio Agüero’s hamstring problem. The key difference between these new injuries and the old injuries is position. Following the injury to Di Maria, Messi was given more playmaking responsibility, but Messi cannot replace the Argentinian back line. So now Alejandro Sabella must hope and pray that his defenders make a swift recovery. In addition to these injuries, Germany played only 90 minutes in their semifinal, and have a full day of rest over the Argentinians who played 120 minutes, which could prove crucial if the game goes to extra time.
Joachim Löw can really pick a winner, as he showed when he tactically masterminded the 1-0 win over France and the 7-1 demolition job of Brazil. He has his critics, and made several mistakes during the tournament including playing Phillip Lahm as a holding midfielder, but has since reversed his errors and found a winning formula. Mats Hummels has not fully recovered from the injury he picked up earlier in the tournament, but got 45 additional minutes of rest during the Brazil match. His likely recovery should keep out Per Mertesacker, who has looked uncharacteristically slow in Germany’s recent matches. Khedira had a field day against Brazil, scoring once and producing the best performance of his career. This is especially impressive considering the torn ACL he suffered in a November friendly against Italy which many said would rule him out of the World Cup altogether. Löw has shown a lack of trust in the fitness of Bastian Schweinsteiger, but the German veteran has shown his manager precisely why he deserves his place in the starting eleven. A man to watch will be Mesut Özil, playing out of position at left-wing, he hasn’t been performing well but has still created some key chances for the Germans. His competition has also disappointed the manager, with very unimpressive displays from both Lukas Podolski and Mario Götze. The biggest decision the German boss has to make is at the front. Will he stick with the top goal scorer in World Cup history in Miroslav Klose, or will he give the start to young André Schürrle? It seems to be that Löw sees Schürrle as more of an impact substitute, someone whose electric movement can cause tiring defenses serious problems, and it is for this reason that he is likely to start Klose. The lineup is therefore likely to be the same one that played the previous two matches.
Alejandro Sabella has certainly experimented throughout this tournament, opening with a five-man defense and Messi as striker against Bosnia and transitioning through two more formations which saw him adapt a five-man midfield instead of the trio which played in the Bosnia match. As Messi showed in every match during the tournament, he commands a huge amount of respect from defenders which creates tremendous space in other areas of the pitch. Sabella now uses two wingers and a lone striker to provide Messi with more options off the ball. A key area of focus has been in central midfield, where Sabella has implemented Lucas Biglia to track the runs of key attacking players like Eden Hazard and Arjen Robben in the quarter and semi-finals. Prior to Biglia’s introduction, Sabella preferred Fernando Gago, and may well revert to the former Real Madrid midfielder to crowd the midfield and interfere with the German possession machine. With Di Maria out, Enzo Pérez must do better than he did in the semifinal if Sabella keeps his faith in the Benfica midfielder. Agüero did not seem fit when he came on as a substitute, so Sabella will most likely stick with Higuaín as a lone striker and hope the French-born center-forward finds the form he did against Belgium.
This match is likely to be a very tactical affair, with the efficient Germans waiting to break down a stubborn and patient Argentinian defense, and Argentina waiting for an opportunity to counter attack. The Argentinians were happy to sit off Netherlands and let them swing the ball across the backline, but Germany will likely try to keep the ball further up than the Dutch. It is here that Mascherano and Kroos, the two players with the most accurate passes in the entire tournament, will go head-to-head and set the tempo. Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger swapped positions in the semifinal, and Khedira had a field day against a poorly organized Brazil. However, the more crowded midfield will likely limit the Real Madrid midfielder’s movement with the ball. With limited space and chances as a theme, each team must make the most of their time on the ball. Should Germany score first, it could be a very difficult game for Argentina to chase without the ball.
Key Player for Germany: Thomas Müller
With five goals in his last six world cup games, the Bayern Munich forward’s runs from right wing caused serious problems in defense for Brazil and France, and with Lahm returning to right-back, Müller’s movement must be intelligent and sharp in order to create space for his teammates.
Key Player for Argentina: Gonzalo Higuaín
Lionel Messi has shown tremendous quality on the ball in every match, despite not consistently performing in them. It is likely that Germany will limit Argentina to a handful of opportunities, and the Napoli man must be focused and professional in taking these chances. Against Belgium and Holland, Higuaín could not capitalize on two great opportunities, and his finishing must be impeccable to score on a brilliant Manuel Neuer.
Matthew’s Score Prediction: Germany 2:0 Argentina
Dan’s Score Prediction: Germany 3:1 Argentina