World Cup final preview: Germany vs. Argentina

July 9

The 2014 World Cup has come down to a final match between Germany and Argentina. The game will be played Sunday in Rio de Janeiro at 3 p.m. EST. Here is a glance at the two sides:

World Cup résumé

Germany: 18 appearances, 3 championships (1954, 1974, 1990), 4 runners-up (1966, 1982, 1986, 2002), 4 third places (1934, 1970, 2006, 2010)

Argentina: 16 appearances, 2 championships (1978, 1986), 2 runners-up (1930, 1990)

Coach

Germany: Joachim Löw

Argentina: Alejandro Sabella

How they got here

Germany: 2-1 in group stage (def. Portugal, 4-0; tied Ghana, 2-2; def. U.S., 1-0); def. Algeria, 2-1, in round of 16; def. France, 1-0, in quarterfinals; def. Brazil, 7-1, in semifinals.

Argentina: 3-0 in group stage (def. Bosnia, 2-1; def. Iran, 1-0; def. Nigeria, 3-2); def. Switzerland, 1-0, in round of 16; def. Belgium, 1-0, in quarterfinals; def. Netherlands, 0-0 on penalty kicks, in semifinals

Statistics

Germany: 64 attempts on target, 17 goals (14 open play, 3 set piece), 71 fouls committed, 4 yellow cards, 0 red cards

Argentina: 61 attempts on target, 8 goals (7 open play, 1 set piece), 64 fouls committed, 6 yellow cards, 0 red cards

World Cup head-to-head history

Germany leads, 4-1-1 (does not include 1-1 tie with East Germany in 1974). Argentina def. Germany, 3-2, in 1986 final. Germany def. Argentina, 1-0, in 1990 final.

Player to watch

Germany: Thomas Müller. The second-leading goal-scorer with five (behind Colombia’s James Rodriguez, with six), Müller is so much more than a specialist who lingers near the front and waits for service. He has covered the most ground in the World Cup (68.8 kilometers), a reflection of the fact that he is an indefatigable mover who can play a number of positions, depending his team’s need. In fact, Müller has described himself not as a striker or as any of soccer’s traditional positions, but as a Raumdeuter — literally, a “space interpreter.” Müller has a preternatural ability to make runs into unexpected openings in a defense, and his goals have been not so much spectacularly athletic moments, but the results of someone who knows exactly where he needs to be.

Argentina: Lionel Messi. Could it be anyone other than the player widely hailed as the best in the world? Outside of perhaps Neymar, no one entered the World Cup with more pressure to be brilliant, and Messi has delivered. The embodiment of No. 10, the jersey number worn by a soccer team’s principle playmaker, Messi seems to have the ball glued to his feet as he glides his way around defenders, until the moment where he picks out an open teammate or simply scores himself. Out of Argentina’s eight goals in the tournament, Messi has scored four and assisted on another, and, in fact, many feel the team is too dependent on him. Messi is attempting to live up to the ultimate standard — Diego Maradona’s leadership of Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title – and so far he has been up to the monumental task.

Prediction

Germany, 3-1. There is simply no objective basis for picking against die Mannschaft. Germany entered the tournament as FIFA’s second-ranked team, and with top-ranked Spain crashing and burning in the group stage, it is hard to argue that Germany isn’t the best side in the world. The team gets scoring from a variety of sources, excellent goaltending from Manuel Neuer and its defense has been less shaky than it occasionally looked during qualifying matches. Then there’s the fact that the Argentina had to play 30 extra minutes before deciding its semifinal match on penalty kicks, while Germany played the day before and could almost coast through the second half of its destruction of Brazil. Which is not at all to say that the Argentina has no chance. Germany has not been defeated in this tournament; however, it has been tied (by a Ghana side that lost its other two games) and won three of its matches by one goal. The rout of Brazil was shockingly thorough but probably a bit of an aberration. That said, Argentina will need not only every bit of Messi’s greatness, but extraordinary efforts from many others in order to spring the upset.

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