Germany vs Argentina - history and genius clash in World Cup final
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With Brazil out, Sunday’s World Cup final may not be the game the hosts wanted to see, but with two behemoths of world football in Germany and Argentina facing off at the legendary Maracana, it is a match more than worthy of the biggest stage.
With five World Cup titles between them (three for Germany and two for Argentina), this is a showdown between two members of football royalty, with a history between them to match. Add to that the likes of Lionel Messi, the best player in the world, taking on perhaps the strongest team of the tournament so far, and there is plenty of reason to be hopeful it will be final fit to cap off a World Cup that has already provided plenty of excitement.
The previous World Cup meetings between these sides include some memorable moments. Not least a five-goal thriller in the final in Mexico 86 that saw Argentina throw away a two-goal lead with 15 minutes to go, before Diego Maradona set up Jorge Burruchaga for the winner in the dying moments of the game.
Four years later, Germany got their revenge, beating Argentina 1-0 in the final of Italia 90, in a bad-tempered game that saw the first-ever sending off in a World Cup final when Pedro Monzon was given his marching orders 65 minutes in.
Then there was the 2006 quarter-final in Germany, won by the home side in a penalty shootout that ended in a mass brawl. And, finally, their most recent encounter at the quarters of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa saw Germany dismantle a side managed by old star Maradona 4-0.
Latin America to back Argentina?
Germany will take confidence from that win, especially given that a large number of their current squad also featured in that match. Indeed, most would have the Europeans down as favourites, particularly in light of the 7-1 drubbing they gave Brazil in the semi-finals.
But history is against them - for no European team has ever won a World Cup played in the Americas.
“We are looking forward to playing a South American team in South America but we hope the Brazilian fans will be supporting us,” Germany assistant coach Hansi Flick said. “We know the Argentina team very well, we’ve played often against them. We know what to expect.”
Whether the Brazilians and other Latin Americans will indeed back the Germans in Rio is another interesting subplot to this final.
Argentina, with its larger population of people of European descent and its historical economic success compared to the rest of the region, is often seen as arrogant both on and off the field, particularly in Brazil.
From the hosts' point of view, it would be harder to imagine a worse team lifting the World Cup on Brazilian soil.
The prospect, however, of a European team winning in Latin America has caused some to put aside local rivalries and back the albiceleste.
They include Brazil’s Neymar, though he says this is more in support of his Barcelona teammates on the Argentina side.
“I always said I wanted Argentina to get to the final because Brazil would be there but it never worked out like that," he said.
"I still want them there because my two teammates are there, Messi and Mascherano, and I hope they win."
Messi versus Germany
And it is the way the former of those two play’s on Sunday – and the way Germany deals with him – that could prove to be the most fascinating aspect of Sunday’s showdown.
This has really been the first tournament in which Messi has replicated his club form on the international stage. While Argentina’s performances during this World Cup have often been workmanlike, they have relied on Messi to provide those moments of magic to see them through, as he did against Nigeria, Switzerland and others.
But when Messi isn’t at his best, Argentina have struggled, most obviously in their semi-final with Holland when they had to rely on penalties to win.
In comparison, Germany have relied on their collective strength. They may not have anyone with the individual brilliance of the diminutive Argentine, but instead they have quality all over the pitch. Which of those contrasting attributes wins out will likely go a long way to deciding the match.
“We’ll have to keep with Messi constantly and try to disturb him,” Germany forward Thomas Mueller said. “It will be important to act as a unit.”
Germany’s biggest problem, though, could be their own overconfidence, at least according to the architect of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup triumph, Maradona.
“The match against Germany will not be a mission impossible. It is not impossible to beat them. German egos will be enlarged by their 7-1 win over Brazil,” he said.
“Their overconfidence could be a good thing for Argentina.”