How did they get there?
Ronaldo and Portugal are out. Rooney and England are long gone. Brazil and Neymar have been dispatched. But the Germans still stand, and stand united. Outstanding individual performances have been a theme of this World Cup – James Rodriguez pulled Colombia through to the quarters, while Robben and Van Persie fired the Dutch to the semis – but it is by playing as a team that Germany have reached the final. The traditional German characteristics of hard work and organisation have been combined with flair and goals by the astute tactician Joachim Low, and to devastating effect.
Low was actually heavily criticized by the German media before the tournament began. This was in part due to persisting with a false nine at the expense of Steffen Kiessling (the leading German scorer in the Bundesliga), as well as managing to draw 4-4 with Sweden after being four goals to the good. All this has been washed away by the incredible 7-1 victory against Brazil on Tuesday. Germany’s attacking play was irresistible, with the various playmakers in the team feeding off Miroslav Klose.
It has been said by many that this is the tournament of the number ten, and this was proved by the Germans. Ozil, Kroos and Muller could all be considered such a player, and the way they combined against Brazil was breathtaking to watch at points. Full kudos to Low for finding a way to fit them all in the team. With Gotze and Draxler in reserve Germany are certainly not light of talent in this position.
The German defence has also been fairly tight during the tournament, conceding just four goals in six games. Again, Low has plenty of talent to pick from in this position, but he has shown tactical nous in his willingness to chop and change the players in these positions. Dropping Mertesacker and moving Lahm back to right back in the game against France stifled the French attack to great effect. It is Low’s willingness to adapt his team as per the opponent that is one of Germany’s biggest strengths.
But what of their opponents, Argentina? Much like Germany, this has long been a team in the making. Last night’s penalty shootout heroes Messi, Aguero and Garay all played together at the 2005 under 20 World Cup, as did fellow starters Fernando Gago and Pablo Zabaleta. This continuity has resulted in a close bond within the squad, shown by the squad’s celebrations after defeating Holland.
Alejandro Sabella has become the first manager to make the most of Messi for Argentina, but this is no coincidence. Before taking the role Sabella spoke to Pep Guardiola on how to best utilise Messi. His reply was simple; “understand his silences, build your team around him, give him the ball, and never, never, substitute him.” Sabella has done just that, describing Messi as ‘the water in the desert for us.’
There have, however, been elements of fortune (or misfortune, depending on the way you view it) in their run to the final. An injury to Aguero in their final group game against Nigeria meant Ezequiel Lavezzi has started the knock out games. Lavezzi’s presence has resulted in Argentina almost playing a 4-4-2, as he likes to drift out to the left touchline. This affords the left side of the defence a bit more protection. Angel di Maria also picked up an injury in the quarter final and his replacement, Enzo Perez, is more of an all round midfielder. Di Maria and Aguero were never likely to be dropped, but their replacements have made Argentina far more balanced in both midfield and defence.
Manuel Neuer – The Bayern Munich keeper is vital to the way Germany play. Low prefers his team to push high up the pitch, and with slower defenders such as Mertesacker playing this can be a problem. Step forward the sweeper keeper. Neuer’s willingness to not just fulfill this role – but thrive in it – has resulted in a Germany team that is good in both attack and defence. He’s always looking to start an attack, notice that at 7-0 up against the Brazilians Neuer was still dispatching the ball quickly and into space. Add to that his shot stopping prowess and willingness to collect crosses and you have the glue that holds the German team together.
Javier Mascherano – No, it’s not Messi! As important as the little man from Rosario is to the Albiceleste, Mascherano is the man that knits it all together. A vocal presence in the squad, Mascherano was actually captain before Sabella took charge. He agreed to step down so Messi could take the role, realising Messi needed to be loved to be at his best. Mascherano provides a link between midfield and defence and is comfortable on the ball as well as tough in the tackle. Having just hit 30 this could well be his last World Cup – he’ll be giving 110% in the final as always.
Injuries and suspension:
Argentina welcomed Aguero back from the bench against Holland, and he is likely to be fully fit for the final. Whether he starts over Lavezzi is another matter. Angel di Maria is rated 50/50 to make it, and again, if fit it is doubtful he would be able to push Perez out of the midfield position.
Germany have the luxury of a fully fit squad to choose from, as well as an extra day’s rest. Marco Reus was ruled out before the tournament, but his absence has not been felt as much as many felt it would.
Previous 3 World Cup Meetings:
2010 World Cup Quarter Final: Argentina 0 – 4 Germany
– Maradona’s attack heavy Argentina side were easily dispatched by Low’s Germany side, with the evergreen Miroslav Klose scoring twice. Spain dispatched the Germans in the next round, but Thomas Muller walked away with the Golden Boot with just 5 goals – can he win it again this year? Having scored 5 again so far, he need’s just one more goal to draw level with James Rodriguez’s 6 goals.
2006 World Cup Quarter Final: Germany 1 – 1 Argentina
(Germany win 4-2 on penalties)
– Jose Pekerman’s attacking team lost out on penalties to the Germans, with Esteban Cambiasso missing the crucial spot kick Miroslav Klose had equalised for Germany after Roberto Ayala’s earlier goal. Argentina had looked strong up until this point, with a 6-0 demolition of Serbia including a 26 pass move that led to a goal. Germany fell in the Semi Final to eventual winners Italy.
1990 World Cup Final: West Germany 1 – 0 Argentina
– A penalty from Andreas Brehme in the 81st minute gave West Germany the win. This was made all the more sweeter as Argentina had beaten the Germans in the final just four years earlier.