The 2014 World Cup is almost over. It has been a mixed tournament in that there have been dizzying highs and then curiously boring lows too. Of course people will always remember Germany and Brazil’s 7-1 semi-final, but it might be the final itself that defines how this particular World Cup is remembered in years to come. And, goodness, what a final we potentially have in store.
The European might and efficiency of the Germans against the raw Latin American skill and passion of the Argentinians.
Germany’s path to the final has been a dramatic one. They have labored at times (against Ghana, the USA and, notably, against France) and then they have looked like the best team in the World at other times (again, 7-1). They have played some absolutely ghastly football (against France in particular) and then they have looked awesome at times too (against Portugal and Brazil).
Argentina have also had an up-and-down tournament, at times looking a bit fragile, but often looking scary-good when crashing forward on the break, and of course almost any time Lionel Messi gets a little pocket of space to work in.
The big event will mark the third time that these two protagonists have met in the Final – 1986, 1990 and now. The great Diego Maradona would probably judge the Germans as his ultimate opponent, and this new generation of Argentine stars can start a new chapter in the rivalry against Thomas Muller and his gang.
Germany might have a tangible, physical advantage in that they played an extremely easy game, particularly the second half, on Tuesday while Argentina played a game, extra time and suffered through the trauma of a penalty shoot-out as recently as Wednesday. Essentially Germany has an extra day to rest and, indeed, prepare.
This extra day was no doubt designed to assist Brazil on their way to the Final, as FIFA did everything else they could have to make the hosts' lives easier in the 2014 World Cup. That plan is now of serious benefit to the Germans.
All in all, it’s going to take something special for Argentina to beat Germany. Thankfully for the former, they have something special in the form of Lionel Messi. He really is the ace up their sleeve ahead of the big game. Messi has had an up and down tournament. He was effectively stifled by strong Dutch planning and in-game marking in the semi-final, but he has shown flashes of his undoubted brilliance on the road to the Final. He’s one of the tournament’s top-scorers and he is fit, healthy and will probably cause Germany most of their pre-match jitters on Sunday night.
When considering the German chances, the picture is somewhat muddied by that incredible 7-1. The fact is, Brazil was bad. Really bad. They were clueless on the night and were simply overwhelmed. All their crying, weeping and gnashing of teeth in the aftermath can’t mask the fact that, basically, they gave in after the first German goal. It was quite frankly one of the most cowardly displays of football in a long time, as each Brazilian basically dug a hole in the ground and hid in it for 80 minutes, after a deceptively bright opening 10.
How can you judge the German performance against that?
Much will depend how they decide to play of course. Should they play with abandon, as against ten man Portugal or cowardly Brazil, they might end up having themselves a fun evening, on the way to picking up a pretty important trophy. However, there is a very, very dark side to the German footballing philosophy, and if that rears its head we’re potentially in for an ugly display.
The Germans were an absolute disgrace against France in the quarter finals. They dove, fouled, time-wasted and cheated in general throughout the entire match, basically trying to spoil France’s fluid play. It worked, sadly, and they hung on despite a late flourish by the French. If Karim Benzema had his sights coordinated properly on the night, we might have seen a very different outcome. Sadly, Germany’s negative tactics won through on the night.
The complication of course is, how do you weigh that gross, negative football against the incredible, swashbuckling display against Brazil. Is Germany the ultimate team, able to play wildly different styles in the space of a few days? Or are they ugly cynics, who just got away with it against France?
We should get some confirmation as to which way they lean after Sunday night’s Final.
It is of course not a one-man-show. Higuain has looked remotely interested at times (trust me, that’s an improvement for the man, who often sleep-walks through club and international matches as if in some kind of a hazy dream). Javier Mascherano has been superb, playing that hybrid center-back slash midfielder role he plays so well for Barcelona. Romero is of course a temporary hero after the penalty shoot-out.
It all starts and ends with the little man, however.
I have been annoying my Dad, my brother and a few friends with certain texts since 2005, when I first fell for Barcelona’s style of play and adopted them as my second team (behind the inexplicable choice of Sunderland!). They will know what I am talking about. Saturday or Sunday night during league play, sometimes on weekdays when it’s the Champions League they will be doing whatever it is they do at those times and their phone will beep and the message will read something like ‘Wow, you should have seen what he just did’ or simply ‘Gooooooooooal!’
The subject of course, Lionel Messi.
Watching Messi play for Barcelona, in particular, the last several years has been an absolute joy. The goals he has scored, the assists he has created and his general play have all been basically the greatest thing in the world of football, bar none. With all due respect to Ronaldo and others, Messi is the guy who has created the most ‘Did you see what he did?’ conversations across the football world the last several years. This World Cup Final offers the little genius a chance to put an exclamation mark at the very peak of what has been an absolutely stunning nine years of footballing from the pint sized maestro. He has conquered everything else in front of him to date, now this is his chance to conquer the world.
Of course, he has to find a way past a sometimes brilliant, sometimes cunning German side. Whatever way you look at it, Sunday night can’t come soon enough. Unless of course you happen to be Brazilian!