The Maracana will have to lay out it’s red carpet on Sunday evening for Brazil’s bitter rivals Argentina and a European powerhouse that reduced the Brazilians to a laughing stock in the eyes of the world. The Brazil team sang their hearts out when the National anthem echoed through the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte but the German resilience and class spoke louder than the power of prayer. Toni Kroos controlled proceedings in the center of midfield and the Brazilian team was offered a masterclass in football by a German team overwhelming favorites to win this World Cup, as they have been favorites to win every major tournament in recent times given the kind of well-resourced youth structure put in place by the footballing minds in Duetschland. As the German juggernaut storms into Rio having put a dismal big-game record behind them with that 7-1 demolition of Brazil, all eyes would be on how Joachim Loew’s well-oiled machine is able to neutralize the best player on the planet.
But if this World Cup is anything to go by, Argentina, although heavily reliant on Messi on so many levels, have progressed to the final banking on a balanced mix of measured attack and solid defense, a far cry from Maradona’s over-reliance on the greatest player of this generation that led to Argentina’s quarterfinal exit at the hands of well, Germany. The 1986 final was a classic case of a team taking on an individual as the German team fell to the outworldly genius of Diego Armando Maradona.
Messi has won everything there is to win at club level, a World Cup win against the World’s strongest footballing force could swing the opinion of many as Messi looks to carve his niche in football folklore alongside the likes of Maradona, Best and Pele.
This is not so much a case of raw Latin American skill taking on polished European elegance, as a meeting of the two strongest footballing generations in world football at the moment. Argentina have barely stamped their class at a World Cup since going down to Germany in 1990, while Germany’s golden generation has so often flattered to deceive in major tournaments. But this is as good as it gets. Argentina have the world’s best player in their ranks, and quite possibly the world’s best playmaker. And in Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta and Fernando Gago, they have players who were key components of Argentina’s Under-20 World Cup triumph in 2005.
The Germans are no different, and a sensible and consistent youth policy will see six of the heroes from the Under-21 European Championships lineup in the final against the South Americans. None more significant that the artistic Toni Kroos. And if the Germans are to hold the cup aloft at the Maracana on Sunday, Kroos would need to have a big say. But given how the talents at junior level fade into obscurity, the Germans have done a mighty good job at making the best out of what they have.
A World Cup billed as the museum of the individual geniuses, as the spotlight was cast on the Messi’s and Ronaldo’s and Neymar’s of the planet, as the pop star-ish affair of the high profile No.10s with a certain No.7 sandwiched in the middle, has proved to be a triumph of team play and tactics. A World Cup, which has unearthed a superstar in James Rodriguez and gave Costa Rica and Colombia a platform to showcase their footballing abilities will see the coronation of one of modern football’s greatest golden generations. Germany have been big-match suckers since Michael Ballack carried them to the 2002 final in Asia, and the Argentinian domestic league’s lust for TV rights money and the ignorance of proper domestic structures since Jose Pékerman went away has left a gaping talent vacuum in the youth ranks. The Class of 2005 is Argentina’s best hope to win a World Cup for some time, the Maracana could well be a final opportunity to cash in on the riches at hand.
Finally, the final at the Maracana would see either Lionel Messi achieve his Holy Grail or Joachim Loew back up his tactical shrewdness and that unflappable demeanor with silverware. As the Unified Germany prepares to take to the field in their second World Cup final in six attempts, the pressure would be on Joachim Loew as he seeks to guide a talented group of spoon-fed footballers, so brilliant at every discipline in the footballing manual, but often lacking that desperation and doggedness in the big games.
Germany are one game away from being labelled a soft team, equally, they are one game away from embellishing the deficiencies of a golden generation with that major tournament. Likewise, Sunday’s final at one of football’s greatest venues is likely to present Lionel Messi his greatest opportunity to reward his homeland through the medium of football – a country in which Messi himself was seen more as a semi-Catalan than one of their own. Argentina, throughout this World Cup, have relied on solid rather than sensational. For the players, the World Cup has been a showcase of team spirit, forged not out of flag-waving or vociferous singing, but camaraderie and a core group of players who have been a part of the team since their teenage.
As good as the Germans are, and the Brazilians will tell you they are mighty good, Lionel Messi at his best is impossible to stop. We are privileged to be able to witness a player as perfect as Messi. Watching the little Argentine play is like Poetry in motion and so consummately has he defined the rules of engagement when boot meets ball, that but for Messi, the Germans would might as easily have ordered the champagne. This is Lionel Messi’s World Cup whichever way you look at it, it’s written in the stars. It really is. The Germans are favorites to win on Sunday, little argument about that. But Messi lifting the Cup in the land of Argentina’s biggest rivals at the Mecca of Football would be a sight to behold. A sight fit for the Gods.
Argentina: Romero; Rojo, Garay, Demichelis, Zabaleta; Biglia, Mascherano, Perez; Aguero, Messi, Higuain
Germany: Neuer; Lahm, Boateng, Hummels, Höwedes; Schweinsteiger, Khedira; Müller, Kroos, Özil; Klose
Facts complied from BBC
Argentina nick it for me!
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