So it's come down to this.
Germany meet Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio with the World Cup on the line, as a remarkable tournament comes to a close on Sunday. Ahead of the final, our experts Raphael Honigstein and Joel Richards give us the lowdown on both teams.
Raphael Honigstein on Germany: Mats Hummels has been suffering from an inflammation in his knee after coming of at half-time in the 7-1 win v Brazil on Tuesday. The Dortmund centre-back didn’t finish all training sessions during the week but is expected to be available. Per Mertesacker, his replacement in Belo Horizonte, stands by if need be. Joachim Löw is unlikely to change his starting line up after two strong performances v France and and the hosts. The return to full fitness of Sami Khedira has been especially valuable. His ability to run into the box and support the attack has given Germany an extra dimension in the last two matches.
Joel Richards on Argentina: The chief concern for Alejandro Sabella is over Angel Di Maria. Argentina are an entirely different proposition with the Real Madrid forward and without him. 'Fideo' missed the semi-final with a muscle tear but is in contention to play, despite early fears he may miss the rest of the tournament after picking up the injury against Belgium in the quarter-finals. Striker Sergio Aguero recovered from his injury in time for a substitute appearance against Holland and is available again.
Raphael Honigstein: Germany were superb against a self-destructive Brazil. The way the hosts disintegrated made it difficult to assess the true strength of Löw’s team but what can be said is that they had the maturity to sense their opponents’ vulnerability and the means to fully exploit it. Löw and the team have confidence in their own ability; the national manager won’t make the same mistake as before the Euro 2012 semi-final when he over-complicated matters with a system change. The Bayern Munich players in the side have referenced their 2013 Champions League win a lot over the last few days. “We know how to win big games,” Philipp Lahm said, for example.
Joel Richards: Clean sheets and nerve have seen Argentina reach the final. In the knockout phase they have yet to concede a goal, and with Sergio Romero performing the heroics in goal during the shootout, they defeated Netherlands scoring all their penalties. The concern is over Leo Messi, who perhaps explained his evident dip in form to his father, saying his legs felt like they weighed 100 kilos during the semi-final win. Instead it is Javier Mascherano - who had to clarify to the Argentine press that he’s neither Rambo nor national independence hero San Martín, after his stunning block on Arjen Robben’s shot in the closing minutes of the semi-final - who embodies the spirit of the finalists under Sabella with humility and effort.
WHAT THE MANAGER SAYS
Germany’s Joachim Löw: “I’m not afraid of Argentina. Of course we have seen hotly-contested games in the past. They are much better defensively than in 2010. This team is more than Messi. It will be a fascinating final, a great battle.”
Argentina’s Alejandro Sabella: “Reaching the final, and in Brazil, makes us extremely proud. Against Germany we have to occupy the spaces and not risk possession. We have to play the perfect game.”
Raphael Honigstein: Toni Kroos. Another dead-ball from the Bayern midfielder (his corner was volleyed in by Thomas Müller) opened the door to Germany’s win v Brazil. The 24-year-old has become the most influential midfielder. If Argentina allow him to dominate the game - and there are indications that the will do that, hoping to play on the counter - he could punish them.
Joel Richards: This is the game for Leo Messi. Few scenarios would trump the glory of captaining Argentina in the World Cup final in Brazil to the title. It’s not that his career will be defined by the final, but after endless debates comparing him with Diego Maradona and having already won everything else possible on a personal and club level, a world class performance is expected, and hoped of him, and could be his career’s crowning moment.
Raphael Honigstein: Müller to score a goal at 3.20.
Joel Richards: Maradona says Messi will score two goals on his way to lifting the title, which if the last World Cup winning Argentine captain is right, comes in at 12.00.
Raphael Honigstein: 2-0 to Germany at 9.50.
Joel Richards: 2-1 to Argentina at 14.00.
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