It’s a damn shame that the World Cup is going to have to end, but we have one more epic game to look forward to. We’re once again treated to a Germany-Argentina match and both teams will see this as a major obstacle.
For Germany, they’ve finally gotten over the semifinal hurdle and can win their first major international tournament since Euro 1996. And man did they do it in impressive fashion. I’ve been one of their most vocal critics but, I have to hand it to Germany for winning so emphatically that they made the whole Neymar/Thiago Silva absence for Brazil irrelevant. For Argentina, they got past the quarterfinal hurdle for the first time since 1990 and overcame an impressive Netherlands side with another solid defensive performance and Sergio Romero stepping up big in the shootout. Germany have looked more convincing throughout the tournament, but Argentina is playing as an extremely solid unit. This could be a cagey, tense, but quite fascinating final.
These two countries have played each other in 2 World Cup finals and have one win each. Argentina won in ’86, which was Maradona’s tournament, in a pulsating 3-2 win where West Germany fought back to draw even until Diego Maradona played a beautiful pass for the winning goal. West Germany got their revenge 4 years later in an ill-tempered 1-0 win decided on a late penalty, and the first ever red card in a World Cup final, earned by a foul on Jurgen Klinsmann. In recent years though, the meetings have been a bit more one sided. Germany has knocked out Argentina in each of the past two World Cups. The first was in 2006 in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw in 120 minutes, and in 2010 Germany ran riot against a very static Argentina side. It also didn’t help that Germany scored inside 3 minutes, but Diego Maradona’s side was out-thought and out-maneuvered in a 4-0 win.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Both teams have taken different trajectories in the past four years. Germany went from a lightning quick counter-attacking side to a more patient probing side that presses high up the pitch and looks to dominate possession. This has been their go-to tactic when they don’t go ahead early in games. An early set piece or penalty (like in the France and Portugal games earlier) has seen them revert to counter attacking which then allows them to get more chances. In my opinion, Germany are at their best when they’re able to spring in behind teams, but I understand why they’re doing what they’re doing as they control games and press higher up the pitch. If they don’t take their chances though a similar situation like the one against Algeria could occur where the Germans rode their luck in the first half.
Argentina on the other hand looked to go in the completely opposite direction from Maradona’s attack-heavy but disjointed team. Alejandro Sabella was brought in to steady the ship and get more out of Lionel Messi and build a team that would help him thrive. It took some time to finally work, but over the past eighteen months, Sabella’s system has paid off well. It’s been kind of disappointing watching Argentina in a way because so much was expected of the ‘fantastic 4’ of Messi, di Maria, Aguero, and Higuain. But Sabella’s logic seems to be “we’re not the strongest team defensively, let’s focus on minimizing errors, and then we can allow those four to make the difference when the time is right.”
Germany could do a lot of different things with their substitutes. Andre Schurrle has typically come on as a sub late in games, but we’d expect Klose to start. They will continue to stick with Lahm at right back as they’ve looked much better defensively with him in his natural position (who would’ve guessed?). Schweinsteiger has typically been the lone holding midfielder as Khedira and Kroos have advanced, but with Lionel Messi special preparations are needed so Khedira will likely help out in marking the best player in the world.
Similarly Argentina will be keeping close attention to the progress of Angel di Maria. They wouldn’t want to waste an early sub on him if they can avoid it. His presence in the side adds a lot of attacking verve and diverts attention away from Lionel Messi, but he pulled a muscle against Belgium and is still day-to-day. At the very least he will look to come off the bench as Argentina go for it. Enzo Perez can add defensive solidity in tandem with Mascherano as they look to limit the space for Toni Kroos to control and switch play. If Argentina are to cause Germany problems, they have to attack Germany’s left flank with Howedes who tends to be left on his own.
Anyone expecting Argentina to “do a Brazil” and Germany to run away with this will likely be disappointed. Both teams have shown incredible mental resolve and the ability to rely upon big performances at key moments and perhaps more so Argentina due to the criticism they’ve taken. It’s an intangible quality that has helped them get this far despite having a couple of weaknesses here and there. Argentina will know better than to engage Germany in a midfield free-for-all like they did 4 years ago and like what Brazil did on Tuesday. On paper alone, Germany will start as favorites, but the longer this game stays at 0-0, which it very well could, Argentina will feel that they can snatch it.