Photo: Messi and Muller (The Independent Sport)
Just a month ago the world turned its eye with great anticipation to the South American continent, specifically Brazil, as the FIFA World Cup got underway with 5 times champions Brazil taking on Croatia. Fast forward four weeks and the final two countries standing are hot pre-tournament favourites Germany and a usual suspect deemed slight outsiders Argentina. Both teams qualified for the tournament in impressive fashion and has reached the final without blemish having not lost a game in their 6 outings thus far.
Joachim Low may have selected a squad depleted in quality due to injuries to some of their top talents namely Marco Reus, Mario Gomez, Ilkay Gundogan, Lars Bender and Marcel Schmeltzer. There were also concerns about the fitness of their maestro Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, captain Philipp Lahm, and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Low however took his time to examine what remains of his squad in order to come with a team that could go the distance. The spine of Die Mannschaft remains quite strong and they were only found stretched in their Round of 16 tie against Algeria.
Argentina on the other hand has stuck with the core of players that brought them through the qualifications except for Nicolas Otamendi and Ever Banega. Alejandro Sabella has built his team around captain Lionel Messi, Ezequiel Garay, Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano. There were questions about the exclusion of Carlos Tevez but Sabella decided the team was balanced as is and has great options up front so there was no need to look elsewhere. Argentina has improved slowly throughout the tournament with their defensive set-up carrying the mantle for them.
Germany are the top scorers of the World Cup so far having hit the back of the net 17 times while conceding just 4 goals in their 6 outings. This is a very impressive return for Loew with a team missing his most prolific attacker last season in Reus. Toni Kroos has been the man pulling the strings and has stepped up his game when needed the most. The Albiceleste on the other hand has scored just 8 goals but they have only conceded 3 times. Messi leads the way with 4 goals and will be the man the team looks to for inspiration in their pursuit to become World Champions.
Germany should field an unchanged team for the final with Manuel Neuer retaining his place between the sticks to be protected by Mats Hummels who is a slight doubt and Jerome Boateng in central defense. Since Lahm returned to right back Germany has looked a much better team and Benedikt Howedes will continue at left back where he has impressed so far.
The partnership of Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger has been fruitful again for Loew and has gone from strength to strength since they got together at the 2010 World Cup. Toni Kroos will continue in his role behind the striker displacing Mesut Ozil who has been used out wide by Loew on the left in the absence of Reus. Thomas Muller is their leading attacker with 5 goals and should support Miroslav Klose who should be starting striker instead of Mario Gotze.
The hero for Argentina in the semi-final was Sergio Romero and he will start between the sticks. Martin Demichelis has displaced Federico Fernandes from the first 11 and should partner the impressive Ezequiel Garay in the heart of defense. Pablo Zabaleta should continue at right back while Marcos Rojo has really made a name for himself on the left.
The leader and perhaps the key component to the organization of the Albiceleste has been Javier Mascherano. He has been rock solid for Sabella and will be partnered by Lucas Biglia in central midfield. Angel Di Maria may come into the first 11 if he proves his fitness but if not Enzo Perez who had a great game against the Dutch should take his place. Messi will lead the attack and will be looking to supply Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
This clash is between the best attacking team against the best defensive unit. It is expected to be a close encounter that could go the distance but the Germans will start as favourites. There will be lots of world class talent on show so the potential is there for moments of brilliance and genius. The fans as well as the neutrals will hope the referee has a quiet game and allow the talents on show to be the deciding factor. Germany has experienced heart break at the semi-final stages in the last two World Cups and will be hoping to go one better now. Argentina will be hoping to lift the trophy on the turf of the biggest enemy and that is all the motivation they should require to do what it takes to become World Champions for the third time.
Players to Watch
Argentina: Javier Mascherano, Lionel Messi, Ezequiel Garay
Germany: Toni Kroos, Mats Hummels, Thomas Muller.