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We are finally here. The World Cup final. And boy, is it going to be good. There is lots of history between these two sides. They played in back-to-back finals in 1986 and 1990. Argentina had Maradona and topped the Germans in '86. In '90, Maradona was still an elite player, but Germany and Jürgen Klinsmann got the best of Argentina and won their third World Cup. This 2014 installment will be the tiebreaker.
And there is recent history with these two sides as well. Just last World Cup, Germany routed Argentina 4-0 in the quarterfinals, sending Argentina home early. A result I'm sure this Argentine squad remembers. And in 2006, Germany defeated Argentina in penalties. Now, in Brazil, Argentina wants some payback.
When And Where
3 PM ET, Estadio Do Maracanã, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Last Match: 0-0 vs Netherlands (advanced 4-2 on penalties)
In a complete gridlock, this game seemed destined for extra time. Neither side wanted to make a mistake and neither side did. Offensive chances were few and far between. Messi and Robben, each team's key offensive player, were neutralized and the focus shifted to their teammates to step up. Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder were fairly invisible in the match for the Dutch and on the Argentine side, Gonzalo Higuaín and Ezequiel Lavezzi did not do enough. Higuaín did almost score late, though, which would have made up for an otherwise tough game.
However, the defensive players for Argentina shined. Pablo Zabaleta had an exceptionally strong game, even after taking a shoulder to the face, resorting the defender to play the rest of the game with a flimsy patch on his face. Even better for Argentina was Javier Mascherano, who took a blow to the head and seemed to be concussed. Honestly, he should have been removed from the game, but he was allowed to play on. Good thing for the Argentine, as Mascherano was constantly in the right position.
In penalties, goalkeeper Sergio Romero came up huge for Argentina, making two saves, including a huge one on Wesley Sneijder. Unfortunately for the Dutch, Tim Krul could not be used and starting goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was left in for penalties. He was unable to come through for Holland and Argentina advanced 4-2, making this World Cup for Brazil even more unbearable.
Key Player: Lionel Messi
This is it. The World Cup final. The biggest stage for the sport's best player. A win here would cement Messi's legacy as one of the all-time greats and bring Argentina their first World Cup title since 1986, when Diego Maradona roamed the pitch and scored the goal of the century. It really doesn't matter what Messi does, he may never surpass Maradona in Argentina, but a win today on South American soil would definitely edge him closer.
Messi was trapped by the Netherlands in their semifinal matchup and constantly pressured him on the ball. If Argentina was going to win, it wasn't going to come off the foot of Messi. I expect the Germans to implement a similar game plan, but I expect a stronger game from Messi.
Why They Will Win
Somehow, this Argentina team, playing on South American soil, is the underdog against Germany. It is motivation that will fuel them as they play a tough and tactical German squad. Sergio Agüero had his moments last match. Agüero is still building his way back from an injury, but his finishing ability will be key in what will be a tight contest where one goal could be enough. Pablo Zabaleta and Javier Mascherano were standouts for Argentina in their win. Argentina as a whole easily played their best defensive match against the Netherlands. They will look for a repeat performance against a dangerous German squad.
But why Argentina will really win is because of the play of Lionel Messi. Even though he didn't do much for Argentina, his presence on the pitch opens up so much for his teammates. The reason Messi was ineffective was because they over-committed to playing him. One mistake and he'll make you pay. Thankfully, for the Dutch, they played flawless defense and never made a mistake to let Messi roam, like Switzerland did, which lead to a dramatic late goal in extra time. And when Messi has the ball, it is nearly impossible to take it away from him, and for someone who is only 5'7", he is one of the strongest players on the ball. At the end of the day, Messi will do everything possible to win.
Last Match: 7-1 win vs Brazil
I don't even know where to begin with this one. In the unlikeliest of results, 0.022 percent probability to be exact (about one chance in 4500), Germany somehow led the host nation 5-0 at halftime en route to their 7-1 win. Brazil simply didn't show up and were completely disorganized. Miroslav Klose set the record for most goals scored in the World Cup, by scoring his 16th career goal. Toni Kroos and André Schürrle both scored 2 goals. The only blemish for the Germans was the concession of a 90th minute goal to Oscar. This game was also the most tweeted sporting event ever. So there's that too.
Key Player: Bastian Schweinsteiger
Schweinsteiger is the man who will be attempting to lock down Lionel Messi and give the Germans control of the midfield. Controlling the midfield and maintaining possession is always important, but in the World Cup final its importance goes up tenfold. Argentina has been only okay at passing in the midfield and it is an area in which the Argentines will look to improve upon. That is why Schweinsteiger is so important. He will be used by Germany as the central defending midfielder and he is excellent at passing. His defense is at time inconsistent though. For Germany to win, he needs to find his consistency and help the Germans control the ball and the midfield.
Why They Will Win
Germany is looking to become the first European team to win a World Cup on South American soil. They look to do it with their slick combination of youth and experience. Veterans like Phillip Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Miroslav Klose lead an impressive group of youngsters. Müller, Özil, Kroos, Schürrle, and Mario Götze to name a few. But besides having a balanced roster, they also play a tactically sound game. They are dangerous on set pieces, have creativity in the attacking third, have a solid back line, and know how to control the ball. This team really doesn't have a weakness. They do everything well. One more complete game from them and they'll be the ones hoisting the trophy.
Who You Should Root For
Technically, they are the underdog, but most importantly, they have Lionel Messi. He is just a joy to watch and seeing the game's best player win on practically home-soil is a perfect story. For him, the only accolade missing is World Cup champion, and if he wins, he is also in the running to win the Golden Ball, an award given to the most outstanding player in the World Cup. I'm sure that would look good on his crowded mantle. I know I'll be pushing for the small Argentine to produce some of his patented "Messi magic" against Germany.
Argentina wins 1-0
Going into the World Cup, I predicted Argentina would hoist the trophy (and I picked them to play Germany). Ángel di María is supposedly looking into stem cell therapy in hopes of playing in the final. If di María can't go, it would be a huge loss. However, I think they still find a way. Messi will be Messi and Argentina's back line played their best game against the Dutch, which will be equally imperative against the Germans. The Germans, on paper, have the more talented side and possibly the momentum with them after the thrashing they gave Brazil. But Argentina will have a good portion of the crowd, even if every Brazilian will be rooting for Germany. Gonzalo Higuaín has had his moments the last two matches and Agüero played well enough in his last match back from injury. They will need to help Messi with the offense if they are going to win.
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