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Germany vs Argentina
Estádio do Maracanã
Rio de Janeiro
Game 64: Germany-Argentina
(Once again, our pal 2.1 seconds left steps in to lend a hand with today's preview.)
For fans of soccer who were cognizant at the time (i.e., not me), this matchup harkens back to the end of the Cold War period from 1980-90, when West Germany were a model of consistency even more impressive than their current 2006-14 incarnation. During that period Die Mannschaft won Euro 1980, finished with silver at the 1982 and ‘86 World Cups, made the semifinals of Euro ‘88, and won the ‘90 World Cup. Reunified Germany would go on to finish second at Euro ‘92 and win Euro ‘96, but the period from 1980-90 is still looked back on as the heyday of German soccer, a time when their team was so consistent in its work rate, defensive play, and consistent striking ability that they came to be known as "The Machine."
Argentina, for their part, were also experiencing perhaps their most transcendent moment as a soccer nation. Diego Maradona (you may have heard of him) captained Argentina in the late 1980s with a flamboyant style that gave him an enduring legacy with a generation of soccer fans. Argentina would win the World Cup in 1986 against West Germany, in large part due to an assist from the consistently doubled Maradona for the winning goal. In 1990, Germany would have their redemption, winning against Argentina in the final on a controversial/atrocious penalty kick given in the 85th minute after a hobbled Maradona played much of the World Cup on a bum ankle.
Since combining for the final in the ’80 and ’90 World Cups, Argentina and Germany have combined to make one World Cup Final, with Germany losing to Brazil 2-0 in ‘02. Argentina have fallen off the map as a consistently dominant soccer nation, just as capable of winning 6-0 as they are of losing 4-0, and unable to progress past the quarterfinals until this year. Germany have notably made the final in ‘02 and the semifinals in ’06 and ’10, but have been unable to capture the glory that comes with the gold. That period in purgatory ends today for one of these countries, and I am very, very excited to see which one.
Some players to watch for Argentina:
Lionel Messi: Duh. Expect Germany to allow Messi to receive the ball a bit more than the Dutch did, as they are confident in the ability of their defensive midfield to close and tackle before he can turn. That’s a risky proposition, though it does open up the counters that their attack thrives upon. That said, from our perspective, this is a great thing. It means we get to see Messi with the ball at his feet attempting to make plays on demand, and that’s what we all want. Expect him to "struggle" in general but have the opportunity to wow on multiple occasions.
Angel Di Maria: Just kidding! I have to bring up his absence, though, because it matters. Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero are great strikers but they are struggling with fitness issues, and Di Maria is the only other offensive player capable of taking some of the creative load off of Messi’s shoulders.
Javier Mascherano: If he’s able to go, then if you follow him you won’t miss a moment of important play. The man is the defensive corollary to Thomas Müller – always in the right place at the right time.
And for ze Germans:
Thomas Müller: For the same reason that you need to watch Javier Mascherano on defense, you need to watch Müller on offense. He has a unique ability to lose defenders and find space when it opens up, which is why so many of his goals look like him tapping into the net.
Toni Kroos: Nicknamed "Garcon" by the Brazilian media for his ability to deliver pinpoint passes and free kicks, Toni Kroos is this World Cup’s version of Müller in 2010, or Schweinsteiger in 2006 – another brilliant German midfielder capable of sustaining their success in that part of the field.
Manuel Neuer: Possibly the best goalkeeper on the planet (I know, I know; I said POSSIBLY), Neuer is definitely one of the most unique, especially when he plays for his national team. Jogi Löw has empowered him to play a sweeper role for their defense, making him much more involved in the game than your traditional keeper. He’s one of the few keepers you will see consistently making (good) plays outside of the goalie box.
Argentina have somehow given up only three goals this tournament and looked surprisingly dominant at times defensively; then again, they’ve played Bosnia & Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. I’ll give you Belgium (maybe), but the rest of those teams are no murderer’s row when it comes to offense, with the Dutch in particular being rather one-dimensional if you have someone like Javier Mascherano capable of marking Arjen Robben even when he tears his anus doing so (go ahead and Google, you know you have to). I assume that you haven’t been living under a rock and know what Germany are capable of offensively – they will score a goal or two in this one. It’s going to be up to Messi to manufacture some brilliance while being marked by guys like Khedira and Schweinsteiger with Hummels coming up from the back line, which will not be easy. I think it works well enough to get Argentina on the board, but not well enough to keep up with Germany. 2-1 Die Mannschaft, and the only reason I don’t say 3-1 is because the game is still in South America.
(Thanks, 2.1. Always appreciated. If you're interested in digging in even deeper prior to kickoff, jump back to the top of this post and click that World Cup Final Preview. In fact, you should do that anyway just to see it, because as with so many other things the mothership collaborates on in big events, it is awesome. Join us here for the final two hours of the 2014 World Cup; pregame coverage will begin at noon, with kickoff at 2pm (not 3pm!).