Mueller v Messi: Two who could decide the final
Published on Jul 12, 2014 7:28 PM
After hundreds of the planet's top footballers produced over 5,000 minutes of largely unforgettable action, the 2014 World Cup essentially boils down to two men.
One measures just 1.69 metres, but stands tall with three Fifa Ballon d'Or awards and countless club honours with Barcelona. The other is lithely built with a disarming smile and an ungainly gallop, but tortures opponents when he pounces around the penalty box.
Though neither are body beautiful, Thomas Mueller and Lionel Messi are indispensable giants for their teams, and arguably the two most lethal attackers in the game today.
Ahead of Monday's finale between Germany and Argentina, we look at the numbers and highlights that make the dynamic duo tick - and defenders flee.
A product of the Bayern Munich academy, Mueller broke into the first team in the 2009-10 season after being identified by then-manager Louis van Gaal as a future cornerstone of the German powerhouse. He featured in almost every match as the club clinched a league and cup double and reached the Champions League final.
Mueller's true brilliance lies in his ability to perform regardless of his role in the final third. Whether as an attacking midfielder, a support striker or even on either wing, the 24-year-old impresses with his team work, stamina and positioning.
Even as Bayern boast the one of the strongest attacks in club football, Mueller is guaranteed to be one of the first names on the team-sheet, sometimes keeping the likes of Mario Goetze, Mario Mandzukic and Xherdan Shaqiri out of the line-up.
Mueller describes himself as an "interpreter of space", one who is deft at finding gaps in a backline even as he is not particularly adept at dribbling or one-on-ones.
It is with Die Mannschaft that Mueller truly sparkles. At the 2010 World Cup, where Germany finished third, he scored five goals in six games to earn the Golden Boot and Best Young Player accolades.
The latest edition in Brazil has seen the forward hit the five-goal mark once again, becoming just the third player to score at least five times in each of his first two World Cups. Leading the Germans to their first Cup triumph in 24 years could catapult Thomas past namesake Gerd as the country's most beloved Mueller.
Bayern Munich - 165 appearances, 58 goals
Titles - German Bundesliga (3), German Cup (3), Champions League (1), Fifa Club World Cup (1), Uefa Super Cup (1)
Germany - 55 appearances, 22 goals
Honestly, what else needs to be said about a man who, at 27, is already being hailed as one of the greatest to have ever graced the sport, right up there with Pele and Diego Maradona? Overcoming growth hormone issues at an early age, the Rosario native sped through Barcelona's ranks, breaking numerous goal-scoring records and the hearts of many opponents.
His fast feet is only matched by a sharp footballing mind. Every opposing manager knows Messi is the man to stop, yet few - if any - of their restrictive measures ever work.
Anointed by Diego Maradona himself as his worthy successor, the diminutive forward's short, strong legs and low centre of gravity allow him to evade defenders and reporters alike.
Messi's preference as a 'false nine' allows him to be a centre-forward even as he often drops deep to draw defenders with him, creating space for team-mates to exploit in the final third. The world is in awe of the goals he scores, but Messi's dynamism and deft touches set up just as many opportunities for his side.
Leading his football-mad nation to World Cup victory will cap a stellar career that will likely see even more silverware as the football maestro enters his prime years.
Barcelona - 277 appearances, 243 goals
Titles - Spanish La Liga (6), Champions League (3), Fifa Club World Cup (2), UEfa Super Cup (2), Spanish Cup (2),
Argentina - 92 appearances, 42 goals
Titles - 2008 Olympic football gold, 2005 Fifa Under-20 World Cup