The day has finally come. It’s the World Cup Final. Everything has led up to this – all of the story lines, all of the struggles, all of the success. But in a few hours, none of that will matter. It will all be about the 90 (or 120) minutes played in the Maracana. The world will be stopped in admiration of the beautiful game’s finest hour. It’s Messi and the Argentines against the Germans. And we’re in for a treat.
The final has the makings of a fascinating encounter. All the Argentine story lines revolve around Lionel Messi in the lead up to the match, but the rest of his teammates bear the bulk of the task. Shutting down Germany’s rampant attack will be a challenge for an Argentine defense seen as the weak link coming into the tournament. Four years ago, in a World Cup quarterfinal, Germany beat Argentina 4-0 in a very one-sided encounter. Germany scored an early goal from a set piece, and then struck three more times in the second half. They picked Argentina’s defense apart, and were particularly dangerous on the counter. Today’s German team isn’t drastically different from the one they fielded four years ago, so it will be up to Argentina’s defense to make sure things are different today.
For Argentina, the best way to go about this game might be to sit back like they did against the Dutch, hoping that Lionel Messi will create one instance of magic at some point on the counter. Alejandro Sabella should be worried about his midfield getting outnumbered, so he will likely have to counter that by making sure he always has men behind the ball. Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano will have a gargantuan task in stopping the German midfield, but given their recent performances defensively, those two might be up for the task. Marcos Rojo will need to be the disciplined left back he was against Netherlands rather than the marauding one he was earlier in the tournament to minimize Thomas Müller’s effect. Germany attacked mostly from the right against Brazil, so Rojo will have to at his best today.
While the game plan might revolve around stopping Germany from scoring, Argentina will likely have to score themselves if they hope to win. Another scoreless 90 or 120 minutes might be possible, but Sabella shouldn’t count on his team’s ability to keep another clean sheet. At some point, he’ll need the best player in the world to leave his mark on the match. While there aren’t many obvious holes in Germany’s lineup, one is at left back. Should Messi be allowed one-on-one situations with Benedikt Höwedes, he should be able to blow by him. Creating as many of those opportunities for Messi as possible should be Argentina’s strategy going forward, especially with Angel di Maria looking unlikely to play. Gonzalo Higuain might be called upon to convert a half-chance or two, but his main work will likely come in the hold-up department, relieving some of the relentless German pressure. A late appearance from Sergio Agüero should provide a boost with a burst of pace up front, especially if Mats Hummels’s injury has slowed the German defender at all.
Germany’s tactics should be similar to those they used against Brazil. With a huge advantage in quality and numbers in the middle of the park, they should be looking to create little triangles to open up space in the final third. Biglia and Mascherano can only be in one place at a time, so lots of quick passing will leave Argentina vulnerable as they get spread out. Testing Sergio Romero early should be a priority, as the keeper is way out of his element in a World Cup Final. Sending in crosses might not be the ideal way to win, but the Germans should allow Romero to make a mistake. Every set piece they get will be dangerous, as the quality of Toni Kroos’s free kicks and the aerial prowess of the entire lineup will cause a lot of problems for Romero.
Defensively, Germany should be careful not to leave Höwedes isolated against Messi. If too many men are forward in attack, a single counter attack from the little man could prove fatal. Bastian Schweinsteiger was excellent against Brazil like many others were, but today his role should be a more defensive one. If he can keep an eye on Messi, Germany shouldn’t be too worried. Whether or not Hummels is able to play due to his injury is unknown, but regardless, the Germans should be alright in defense. With Philipp Lahm restored to the back line, they’ve looked much more solid. And last but not least, there is the safety net that is Manuel Neuer. It’s no small task to beat the big German keeper, and Argentina might need more than a few chances if one is to get by him.
I predict the match will start brightly for Germany, with Mesut Özil forcing an early save from Romero. While Argentina settles into the game, the German front line will be hard at work, creating a number of dangerous looking opportunities. Messi won’t see much of the ball in the early going, and Higuain will look rather isolated up top. The opening goal will come thirty minutes into the half, with Jerome Boateng nodding home a Kroos corner. It will be 1-0 Germany at half. Argentina will send on Agüero early on in the second half, knowing they need to be more offensive minded. And his impact will be felt quickly, with Argentina’s best chance falling to Higuain, who will hit his effort straight at Neuer. Once Argentina begin to look dangerous, Germany will settle quickly, with Schweinsteiger and Khedira moving deeper. With fifteen minutes to play, the Germans will all but seal the match with a brilliantly worked counter. Andre Schürrle will start the move, finding Özil on the left, played into the space behind Pablo Zabaleta. Özil will draw Romero out before squaring the ball for Müller, who will convert. The final minutes will tick off the clock without too much drama, und Deutschland wird gewinnen. Messi won’t get the chances he needs, and Philipp Lahm will lift the cup for Germany. The game will finish Germany 2 Argentina 0.
Today, I’ll celebrate my Faustian roots, my small amount of German heritage, and my German nickname, by rooting for Germany as hard as I can. Whoever wins though, I hope we’re in for an entertaining end to a wonderful World Cup. May the best team win.
Check back for post-match analysis later tonight, and I’ll have my post-World Cup thoughts spread among the next few days. Enjoy the final.