Argentina, with flair, and West Germany, with force, have arrived in the final of this 13th World Cup. The championship match Sunday will bring international soccer its most time-honored denouement: Latin America vs. Europe.
In five previous World Cups held in the Americas, no European team has won the title. Three times, European teams reached the championship match, but Czechoslovakia lost to Brazil in 1962 in Chile, Italy lost to Brazil in 1970 in Mexico and Holland lost to Argentina in 1978 in Argentina.
West Germany, hoping to repeat its performance in Wednesday's 2-0 upset of France in Guadalajara, will prepare a defensive blanket to throw over Diego Maradona and Argentina.
In its last three matches -- against Morocco, Mexico and France -- West Germany has not given up a goal, a span of 300 minutes (including 30 minutes of overtime against the Mexicans). Against France, the West Germans got a ninth-minute goal from Andreas Brehme and then shut down the French and superstar Michel Platini with a tough-tackling brand of soccer.
"This is more than we ever expected," said West German Coach Franz Beckenbauer, who said before the tournament his team would be lucky to reach the semifinals. "We are very happy, as we have beaten probably the best team in the tournament. If you play a superstar like Platini, you have to mark him closely . . . That is our character, the mentality of West German football."
West Germany's outstanding soccer tradition is undeniable. Its record in Cup play is 36-13-11, a mark surpassed only by Brazil's 41-11-10. In 10 previous Cup appearances, West Germany has finished first twice, second twice and third twice.
And now, with its surprising, if somewhat stumbling, advancement to the title match, West Germany has been in three finals in the past four Cups and four finals in the past six Cups. Only Brazil, which appeared in finals in 1950, 1958, 1962 and 1970, can equal that standard of long-term success.
"I know they have had their problems, but I always thought of them as finalists," Argentina Coach Carlos Bilardo said. "Against France, I saw West German players who rose above their own level. They are disciplined and they avoid critical mistakes. It is typical West German soccer."
The West Germans have played a conservative, almost energy-conserving offense. They have scored six goals in six matches; Maradona alone has five goals for Argentina. But with fullbacks Brehme, Dietmar Jakobs, Karl-Heinz Foerster and Hans-Peter Briegel playing their bruising games and goalkeeper Harald Schumacher consistently superb, West Germany has built a nearly impenetrable defense.
Argentina, meanwhile, rolled past Belgium in the semifinals, 2-0, and, in doing so, again demonstrated its one big weakness: an overdependence on Maradona. But every team here would gladly accept that weakness.
"Not to slight anyone," said French fullback William Ayache, alluding to his teammate Platini, "but I think Maradona is the best player in the world right now. He is amazing. He takes the ball and he dribbles through three players."
But Sunday, Maradona will be trying to dribble through West German players, and Platini can attest that is not easily done.
It is a tradition for players to exchange jerseys after matches as a show of sportsmanship. But FIFA, the international soccer federation, announced earlier this month it did not want players doing so on the field during the tournament -- saying something about a lack of dignity.
But Wednesday at Azteca, Maradona and Belgian goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff ignored the directive and made the exchange. Pfaff got the No. 10 jersey that may become nearly as famous as Pele's No. 10, Maradona got Pfaff's No. 1.
The Associated Press reported police arrested 61 persons Wednesday night in Buenos Aires during street celebrations of Argentina's semifinal victory.