The World Cup is drawing to a close after nearly one month of shocking upsets, tremendous finishes and breathtaking moments. And on Sunday, Germany take on Argentina for all the marbles, after demolishing host country Brazil, 7-1.
We’re lucky to be treated to a matchup featuring two countries with superstar players that are no strangers to playing on the big stage, and Lionel Messi and Thomas Mueller will also be battling it out in an attempt to steal the Golden Boot award away from James Rodriguez.
Let’s take a look at five things to watch in the final.
Team play (Germany) vs. individual play (Argentina)
As the Germany-Brazil match demonstrated, the Germans kept their shape well throughout while the Brazilians looked disorganized and at times confused on the pitch. While the game in Brazil may be considered beautiful, the Germans found true beauty in discipline and organization, and they will be rewarded by playing in Rio on Sunday rather than Brasilia on Saturday.
While much has been made about the “star qualities” of many of the Brazilian players, Germany have proven that playing well as a unit and emphasizing team play is more important than reliance on a few superstars.. This is not to say that the team’s players aren’t world class caliber, many of them come from elite squads such as Bayern Munich, but manager Joachim Low places a premium on playing well as a unit and leaving egos on the sideline.
And that’s just one of the reasons why Low is the best manager in the tournament.
European teams can’t beat the top South American teams on their soil—Or can they?
After host country Brazil lost in front of their fans in Belo Horizonte in a one-sided affair, this is another myth that should be red-carded to the dustbins of history. While playing at home is generally seen as an advantage, it is clear that the better team, whether due to preparation, talent or team play, will prevail as victors in the match.
And as demonstrated against Brazil, when the host’s fans turn against the home team and begin to boo (which occurred vs. Germany on Tuesday), playing at home can actually become somewhat of a detriment and deflate the spirit of the home team. Watching players such as Brazil’s Marcelo is a testament to that, as he seemed to just give half-effort at times, accepting his team’s fate even before the game seemed out of reach.
The final litmus test will be on Sunday’s conclusion to the great tournament, when a very tough German squad plays Argentina in their continent. Should Germany win, this archaic belief may be dismissed once and for all.
Referees: Just doing their job? Or the twelfth man?
No one wants to see the man in the middle determine the outcome of the game. But the Laws of the Game (and subsequent rulings) are in fact a part of the game. We’ve seen the referees “let the players play” thus far, which is a euphemism for legitimizing some fouls and card-worthy infractions, keeping both whistle and cards in their pockets.
It’s clear that both teams will try to utilize this to their advantage and will play physical when they can get away with it. Because just like referees controlling the game itself, not calling fouls affects the game as well. This would give Germany a distinct advantage in the match, so it’s all a question of if the referee (who has yet to be named) swallows his whistle throughout the affair.
It’s one thing for a player to play through some discomfort on the pitch, but it seems clear that some of these players are carrying more than a few knocks and bruises. Many started the tournament with nagging injuries incurred during a very long season, and the competitive nature and brutal scheduling during the World Cup has only made things worse.
And while he give it his all last match, Argentina’s Sergio Aguero came in for Argentina late, but he too was ineffective due to a nagging injury. Javier Mascherano continued to play after concussion-like symptoms after a nasty head-to-head collision early in the match. Robin van Persie played for the Dutch with a virulent stomach virus.
The injuries can range from moderate to severe, and there are no FIFA requirements for teams to publicize any of these issues. But clearly players who have been playing virtually non-stop since last August are susceptible to injuries, and their bodies need a rest. Yet with the final (and third place game) coming this weekend, look for these players to give their all and their teams not to disclose any ailments.
But the fact remains there will be some players on the pitch who will be playing at less than 100 percent, and it will affect both individual and team play.
It’s all about the midfielders
While we are enamored with the flashy, goal-scoring strikers, we often underrate the value of a strong midfield. Without one, teams fail to maintain possession, and there’s a lack of distribution to the players up front. In fact, in almost every game, the team with the better midfield will walk away with a positive result.
While we revere the many talented goal-scorers that will be playing in Sunday’s match, it is more important to take a closer look at the midfielders. For the most part, Argentina has one key player that is the glue to hold it all together, Mascherano. While the German team has Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Schurrle and other midfielders that also play up front as strikers (Mueller and Podolski).
The bottom line
Both Germany and Argentina will likely look to play a sound, tactical match to limit their opponent’s chances. And both have good defenses and good goalkeepers. But it will likely be the German midfielders that will control the game, create more chances and make the difference in Sunday’s match.
It’s been 24 years since the Germans last hoisted a World Cup trophy. That ends on Sunday.