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Germany vs. Argentina (Final) | Kickoff: July 14, 00 30 IST | Stadium: Estádio Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro

Thus it all comes to an end. A glorious month of football that started with 32 eager and hopeful teams comes to a close with only the strongest two standing. It has been a month of disappointment and jubilation, agony and exhilaration, tears and tears of joy. Against the backdrop of protests against the hosting of the World Cup, Brazil’s socioeconomic difficulties, and fears that the infrastructure may not be ready in time for the world’s most sacred tournament, 31 days have gone by very quickly and enjoyably. Controversial refereeing, the Brazuca, and the Bite have all left their mark on a contest played out at the Mecca of football.

The last two heroes of this tournament are Germany and Argentina; twice, they have faced each other in the finals and both won their last championship by defeating the other. In World Cups, Germany has fared better against Argentina, winning four of their six previous encounters and drawing another; however, Argentina has a slightly better 9:7:4 record against Germany overall. Interestingly, Germany and Argentina have met in World Cups more than any other pair except Brazil and Sweden, whose record of seven they will equal in this final.

In Brazil, Germany reached the final by thrashing Portugal 4:0 in their opening match and pushed aside an impressive France in the quarterfinals before demolishing Brazil 7:1 in the semifinals. Argentina’s path may not have been as star-studded but they overcame an inspired Iran, a stubborn Belgium, and a challenging Netherlands to set up a repeat of the 1986 and 1990 World Cup finals.

The Argentines come to the finals after a long and tough semifinals but it would be naive to think that an extra half hour of football three days ago would dull players at this level. On the other hand, the Germans are euphoric after the unbelievable 7:1 annihilation of Brazil; however, Joachim Löw is a seasoned coach and knows that such results are more an aberration than a sign of prowess. Consequently, the German team’ will not be as high on their semifinal success as some of their fans are.

The Germany-Argentina clash has been heralded by many commentators as one between Lionel Messi and Thomas Müller, the most effective players on either side. Yet such a perspective reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of German football. Most of the the major teams come together around one or two stars – Luis Figo, Andrés Iniesta, Andrea Pirlo, Diego Maradona, Marco van Basten. Supported by others, these players become the tip of the spear.

However, German football has rarely, if ever, believed in spear tips. When they last won the World Cup in 1990, the German effort was fuelled by Lothar Matthäus, Jürgen Klinsmann, Rudi Völler, Thomas Häßler, Pierre Littbarski, and the goal scorer, Andreas Brehme. In 2014, though Müller has scored most of Germany’s goals, it would be ludicrous to disregard the contributions of André Schürrle, Toni Kroos, Mesut Özil, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, or Sami Khedira to the team. One on one, no German player comes close to matching the flair or finesse of the greats like Garrincha (Manuel Francisco dos Santos), Diego Maradona, or Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento) but the European side’s strength comes from their organisation, discipline, and inability to give up until the final whistle is blown – and they have three World Cups to show for it. Football is a team sport and as their generous passing even within the opponent’s penalty area shows, that is how the Germans play it.

As their fans glare and jeer at each other, there is much respect between the two sides. Argentine legend Maradona and coach Alejandro Sabella have both heaped praise on the German team, their players, and their method. Löw has been equally respectful of his opponents, applauding the stout Argentine defence as well as strikers Messi and Gonzalo Higuain. For better or for worse, the explosive rivalry between Argentina and Brazil or Germany and the Netherlands have been avoided in this final. Interestingly, this will be one of the rare occasions Germany goes into a match as the favourite – despite their 7:1 drubbing by Germany, Brazilians are slow to forget their grudge against Argentina!

Despite their different approaches to the beautiful game, there is little difference between the two finalists. The German defence is famous and questions have been raised about the Argentine back line but in this tournament, it is the South Americans who have proven more unflappable. Germany’s true advantage has always been its midfield and this team is no different. Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Götze, Kroos, and Özil dominate their part of the field and feed Germany’s attack. Müller has been played forward in this World Cup and along with Schürrle and Klose, bring up Germany’s attack, which, though not as lethal as Messi and Higuain, is supported by the best midfield in the world.

At the Maracana in Rio on Sunday (Brazilian time), all things considered, Germany will have the slightest of edges over Argentina…but it will be just that, the slightest of edges. The best teams have survived, and by the end of the evening, only one will be left standing – Argentina will win its third championship or Germany its fourth. In all likelihood a low-scoring match, it will nonetheless be one for the history books.

Update:

Final score: Germany 1 – 0 Argentina (after extra time)

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