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article imageWorld Cup 2014 Final Preview: Germany - Argentina

By Tyrrell Meertins     Jul 12, 2014 in Sports
Over the past 30 years, Germany and Argentina have developed into familiar foes at the World Cup. The international powerhouses split triumphs in 1986 and 1990, but the Germans have proved their superiority over the Argentines in the last two World Cups.
While the quarterfinal in 2006 concluded via penalty shootout, Joachim Low’s German side thrashed Argentina 4-0 in South Africa. Stylistically, Germany has transitioned into a possession-based side since their convincing victory over the Argentines, with eight players from that quarterfinal expected to feature at the Maracana.
Low is unlikely to tinker with the XI that demolished hosts Brazil, while Alejandro Sabella will be forced to make key decisions involving Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero's inclusion in the final. The former is likely to start if fit, but it would be surprising if Sabella recalled the latter –– who in fairness –– has been poor due to fitness issues.
Sabella, in contrast to Diego Maradona, has proved to be a fine tactician that is keen on covering spaces, and it’s unlikely that the Germans will equal their result in South Africa, as the Argentine manager is renowned for his caution.
Although Argentina has been fairly labeled as a one-man attacking side –– their offence is built around Messi –– it’s difficult to overlook their organization without the ball, and defensive solidity in the knockout round. Argentina conceded three goals in the group stage, but equally recorded three clean sheets since their victory over Nigeria.
Sabella’s formation change has played a significant factor, as Argentina operate in a 4-4-1-1, with two wide-players protecting the cautious full-backs. Ezequiel Lavezzi’s threat in the final third is shockingly inconsistent, but his willingness to offer pace and protection on the left will see the winger match up against Phillip Lahm. If Di Maria is unavailable, Enzo Perez will retain his spot on the opposite flank, after displaying his ability to offer penetrating runs through midfield.
Equally, considering Benedikt Howedes’ limited attacking threat, Perez can drift into midfield to negate Germany’s overload. Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller will drift into central areas in search of pockets of space and Perez can assist Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano in central areas to prevent German midfielders from exploiting space between the lines.
Muller is the danger man in the German XI, but it’s unlikely that he’ll receive the amount of space handed to him in the semifinals. Marcos Rojo and Pablo Zabaleta will likely sit narrow, and force the Germans into wide areas, with the former likely to operate as a third centre-back due to Muller’s movement in the final third. Sabella will likely instruct his side to maintain their shape in deep areas, and enable the Germans to circulate possession ahead of the two banks of four.
With Ozil and Muller tucked in centrally, the full-backs may avoid consistent 1v1 pressure until Andre Schurrle is introduced, and their discipline will be tested, as vacant space will be available to exploit.
The key battle lies in the midfield, as the Germans overloaded central areas and passed their way through the hosts in the semifinal. Germany may not replicate Holland’s man-marking, but Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos will continue to press in midfield, while Bastian Schweinsteiger will be expected to close down Messi. Low will prefer to keep his 2v1 against Gonzalo Higuain, so this will prove as a huge test for Schweinsteiger.
Schweinsteiger and Khedira nullified the Argentinian star four years ago, and it’ll be interesting to see whether Low risks leaving Lucas Biglia free to mirror his successful approach. In contrast, Schweinsteiger is expected to receive space in deep positions to dictate the tempo of the match, and it’s uncertain as to whether Sabella will instruct Messi or Higuain to press him, or rely on the midfielders and defenders to minimize space in key areas.
In contrast, Schweinsteiger has displayed his vulnerability against top-class attackers, and he may endure a difficult time preventing Messi from receiving the ball between the lines. Nevertheless, Germany will need to limit these pockets of space in their third, but they risk Higuain or Aguero exploiting space behind the defence, which could force Manuel Neuer to continue his impressive sweeping.
Similarly, Khedira’s defensive duties will be significant as Javier Mascherano has been Argentina’s creative outlet in central areas. Mascherano, in particular, flourished against Holland when he dropped into deep positions to avoid pressure and play long diagonal balls into the channels. Although Mascherano is the typical combative holding midfielder, Khedira will likely surge into advanced areas to negate his passing lanes.
Germany will attempt to attack through central areas –– unlike the Dutch who aimed to exploit the channels –– and this could serve as their first real test in the knockout round, as Low’s XI will be forced to break down an organized defensive unit. However, in five out of the six German fixtures in Brazil, Low’s side has converted from a set-piece, and the likes of Mats Hummels and Muller will pose a legitimate threat in these situations.
Very little has changed in regards to theme of this match; Germany remains a vibrant, collective group of technically gifted footballers, whereas Argentina’s attack is still built around Messi. However, the pattern of the match will finally suit Sabella’s side, as they prefer to play on the counterattack.
Still, this could be a match that’s defined by the smallest margins. Germany’s set piece proficiency, and the fact that they received an extra day’s rest, along with Argentina playing an additional 30 minutes against Holland gives Low’s side a reasonable advantage.
Nonetheless, considering Sabella’s pragmatism and caution, this should be a tight affair between two sides aiming to return to the top of world football. This is the ideal opportunity for Messi to cement his legacy and seek revenge for previous defeats, but the Germans will be looking to avenge past failures in the latter stages of major international tournaments.
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