OUR MAN IN BRAZIL
Hope for early goal or it could be dour
Germans can find the net and that will force Argentina to shed caution
Published on Jul 12, 2014 6:53 PM
THE 3-2 thriller at the Azteca? Or the 1-0 bore at the Olimpico? Which version of previous Germany-Argentina face-offs will tomorrow's World Cup final follow?
Conventional wisdom would suggest, after Germany's 7-1 thrashing of hosts Brazil in the semi-final, that there will be goals at the Estadio do Maracana.
Joachim Loew and his men have been primed for the Rio de Janeiro showdown, with their scoring boots given a good outing in Brasilia and confidence high after making the final after failed bids at the last two World Cups.
Yet, Alejandro Sabella's defend-first approach could neutralise any hopes of this being another free-scoring 3-2 classic like the one in 1986 in Mexico City.
Then, like now, Argentina were also regarded as a one-man team. But led by a superb Diego Maradona, they scored a tournament-leading 14 goals as the 1986 squad showed attacking verve and flair to win their second title.
In 2014, despite Sabella boasting four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi in his ranks and the tournament's best attack on paper, La Albiceleste are now a much more cautious, methodical outfit. They have no qualms admitting that the key to success may mean grinding out a win.
"We are in the final and we have to play it and win it in whatever way possible," said forward Sergio Aguero.
"We want to have control of the ball but we know that Germany are a great team that know each other by heart, having played together for many years. It is clear that Argentina always go out to win but sometimes during the game, you have to be cautious. We are all aware of what the objective is and we will leave everything on the field to achieve it."
Sabella's men have not conceded in their three knock-out games in Brazil. Patience is a virtue of theirs, snatching the winner against Iran in the group stage almost at the death, beating Switzerland in the final minutes of extra time and then seeing off the Netherlands in a penalty shootout after a scoreless 120 minutes in the semi-final.
All signs on the Argentina end point to a repeat of the dour clash in Italy 1990 though they will be hoping the outcome, a 1-0 win to Germany, will be different.
The match at Rome's Stadio Olimpico is widely regarded as one of the worst World Cup finals ever. In a clash devoid of any real quality, the ill-tempered showdown was marred by four yellow cards and the sending-off of two Argentina players.
The tie was settled when Rudi Voeller earned Germany a controversial penalty. Andreas Brehme slotted home the spot-kick but he would later admit that there was no foul leading up to the goal.
On that night in Rome, Argentina became the first team not to have scored in a World Cup decider since the tournament started in 1930.
Since then, four of the last five finals have seen at least one team not finding the back of the net, and three going to extra time or penalties.
Defences, more than anything, are increasingly becoming as influential, or not more so, than their attacking colleagues.
Hope is resting on Germany's shoulders that they will play their part to make tomorrow's contest as intriguing as their last two encounters with Argentina.
At the Germany World Cup in 2006, the hosts came back from a goal down to win 4-2 on penalties in the quarter-final. Four years later, the genesis of today's current squad beat a Messi-led Argentina 4-0 in South Africa.
Both sides are more than aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses. They would have watched hundreds of video analyses, discussed numerous strategies, probably dozens just focusing on how to stop Messi.
Which is why the key to victory, says the World Cup's all-time leading scorer Miroslav Klose, may lie in doing the unexpected.
"We have to come up with a few surprises of our own," said the 36-year-old.
"I am just looking forward to an exciting game which will be marked by tactics and a bit of trickery."
When it comes to invention and doing that something extra, Argentina can look only to Messi, with Angel di Maria out injured and unlikely to recover in time.
Germany, however, can rely on a midfield of Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Mueller, Mesut Oezil and Sami Khedira to find a way past the Argentinians.
The quintet are the engine that run the slick German machine, which leads all teams in the passing department in Brazil, making 3,421 passes at 82 per cent accuracy.
Five Germans are among the top eight in the passing category.
If they succeed and find an early goal, Argentina will be forced to attack and we could see a real classic.
The hopes of this match living up to its billing, and not a rerun of Italy 1990, lie in their hands.