Come on, let’s get real. In my experience there can be no favourites in a two-horse race.
Both Germany and Argentina have earned the right to be here. They arrived in hugely contrasting styles, but having made it to the final, both nations will feel confident they can win it. The Germans know another blowout is about as likely as an alien invasion, while the Argentines would rather avoid another nerve-shredding shootout. Wouldn’t we all.
So what have we learned about the protagonists over the last month in Brazil?
Both have clearly demonstrated offensive prowess and defensive stability. For the Germans, Thomas Muller has carried on where he left off in South Africa, while Lionel Messi has finally silenced the critics who accused him of being a peripheral figure when representing Argentina
At the other end, the South Americans come into the showpiece on the back of three straight clean sheets. Argentina hasn’t conceded in 330 minutes of knockout football and has allowed only three goals in six games to date. Proof positive, apparently, that Argentina’s defence is to be trusted.
Germany’s back line has been equally effective. Just four goals conceded — including two in the same group game against Ghana — is a testament to the Europeans’ solidity. During the campaign, the Germans shut out Portugal, the U.S. and France, and were seething about the one they allowed Brazil in the closing moments of that one-sided semifinal.
Game-changers on both sides
So much for the statistical history lesson. Goals change games and both finalists possess game changers. Messi is a footballing genius and despite his diminutive frame he is extremely difficult to knock off the ball. Given a chance he can — and does — score from anywhere but like anyone else he needs service. The Germans will have studied the Dutch game plan which severely limited Messi’s influence.
Muller is an opportunist, and a very good one. It is no accident he is often in the right place at the right time. His excellent reading of the game buys the German striker crucial space and time to deliver the goods or set up a teammate. And as the Brazilians found out the hard way, Germany has plenty of potential goal scorers in its ranks.
The battle for midfield control will be pivotal. Neither Javier Mascherano nor Bastian Schweinsteiger will be taking any prisoners — it’s simply not in their nature. Players of their ilk rarely grab the headlines but their overall contribution is key. Expect an intense physical skirmish to help both Germany and Argentina transition rapidly from defending to attacking.
The two goalkeepers have proved themselves time and again in this World Cup. Manuel Neuer is a solid shot stopper, good organizer and has even played sweeper on occasion. Sergio Romero is a little more unconventional, often electing to punch rather than catch, but distinguished himself in the win or bust shootout against the Netherlands.
Ultimately there’s little to choose between the teams. And that’s exactly how it should be with the title of World Champion on the line. Argentina may benefit from the “home crowd” effect and nothing would give Messi and company more satisfaction than winning the World Cup on Brazilian soil.
In the end it’s a game of mental gymnastics. While Germany cannot hang its hat on that sensational semifinal, Argentina cannot take to the pitch in fear of what might happen. If Argentina does, then Germany is, indeed, unbeatable.