Preview of the World Cup Final
It’s one-all in winning World Cup finals ahead of the showdown in the Maracana Stadium on Sunday night between Germany and Argentina. The teams reached the final after two contrasting matches in the round of the last four. Amongst the subplots are the unresolved issues of who will win the Golden Boot awarded to the top scorer in the World Cup and which player will be voted player of the tournament.
In 1986 in Mexico a Maradona inspired Argentina beat the then West Germany 3-2. Four years later they achieved the ultimate in revenge and redemption by beating Argentina 1-0. The same teams have never met in three World Cup finals and the decider is too close to call. The whole of Brazil will be hoping the Germans win and the whole of Holland will be hoping Argentina win.
Not winning their World Cup is bad enough and being the worst team ever in a semi-final takes some accepting but seeing Argentina win the World Cup in their own backyard would be the ultimate in humiliation. Brazil can only restore a small amount of pride by beating Holland in a meaningless and pointless consolation match.
The World Cup is the only major sporting event in which competitors are asked to play again after losing a match. I doubt if anyone in Brazil really cares how the fixture pans out. Playing again few days after the worst disappointment a footballer can feel must only add to the tremendous sense of anti-climax.
Depending on who Felipe Scolari selects Brazil must surely have the edge in terms of motivation and incentive. They now have a responsibly to put a smile back on the face of a devastated nation. It will be interesting to see if the civil unrest escalates as there is no longer the football to mask the resentment of millions of Brazilians.
It would be too simplistic to say that Brazil missed Neymar and Thiago Silva. Certainly they have been their two best players throughout the tournament but the paucity of talent to replace them is a sad indictment of the current strength of the national team. David Luiz was frankly hopeless as a stand in captain.
Holland will also be gutted they failed to take control of an even match with Argentina in the second semi-final. In a match of very few chances the Dutch stalwarts of Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben had few chances to score a crucial winning goal. Holland are still the best team in international football to have never won the World Cup despite playing in three finals and twice losing to the hosts.
The FIFA world rankings and head-to-head records will say nothing about the level of commitment and desire. For what its worth Brazil are third in the in the latest standings, 12 places above Holland. The Dutch won the last tournament fixture in the 2010 World Cup but a friendly in 2011 was drawn. Current and past form has little relevance in the context of such an emotive match.
If there was not enough at stake in trying to win the World Cup the final will have implications for two peripheral issues. The winner of the Golden Boot awarded the to top scorer in the World Cup and best player honour have still to be decided. James Rodriguez of Colombia could win both prizes but Thomas Muller and Lionel Messi are still in the mix.
Rodriguez has scored six goals but cannot add to his tally. Muller is just one goal behind and Messi is just two of the pace. If either make an impression in the final and score its feasible that the same payer could win both prizes. Muller is trying to become the first player to win the Golden Boot more than once. In theory Arjen Robben or Robin Van Persie could score enough goals in the 3rd/4tth place match to overhaul everyone else.
The World Cup final is the classic match-up between the best sides from Europe and South America. The appearance of Germany maintains a run off a European side making the final in every tournament since 1950. That was the year in which Uruguay beat Brazil on the worst day in the history of the Brazil national team until last Tuesday. It’s a confrontation of German efficiency and Argentinean flair.
The combination of attacking talents means Germany are among the best at creating and taking chances. In the four years since the last World Cup Germany have played only two games in which they did not score, scoreless draws against Sweden and Holland. Before this World Cup they looked like the new Brazil: heavily burdened by their own past and by everyone’s expectations but they have managed to reach the final.
Keeping clean sheets has been a major problem and that’s why they were so disappointed when Brazil scored in the last minute of the semi-final. In the past a lack of good defenders has been a reason for this tendency. However, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund’s success on the European stage suggests the likes of Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng not to mention Per Mertesacker are capable enough.
For Argentina the coach has picked a group and stuck with them. The attacking threat of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain has not quite panned out as expected due to injury to Aguero and Higuain’s poor form early in the tournament. Argentina play a 4-3-3 based on direct attacks and quick counters but the absence of Angel di Maria may force a tactical re-think.
Messi and Argentina have showed they don’t need lots of possession to create chances and are not just dependent on one player. Messi scored or had an assist in Argentina’s first four matches but has contributed neither in the last two. Argentina have continued to find a way with narrow wins in the knockout stage. They remain unbeaten in this World Cup and they can maintain that record by beating Germany in the final.