Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
Tonight sees the culmination of a month’s worth of hard work, drama and sheer excitement as the 2014 World Cup final takes place in Rio de Janeiro, however host nation Brazil are the notable absentees from their own showpiece event following their 10 minute capitulation against Germany in the 7-1 semi-final defeat. Instead, Brazil’s fiercest rivals Argentina will step into the cauldron of footballing history that is the Maracana and look to end a 28-year wait for World Cup success by overcoming Germany in a repeat of the 1986 final.
Germany too have a World Cup drought of their own with the European giants having not lifted the famous trophy since 1990 despite reaching the 2002 final but coming up short against Brazil in Yokohama. Joachim Lowe’s side have looked irresistibly brilliant at times this tournament, but have also flattered to deceive, particularly in the Group Stage matches against Ghana and the United States.
The semi-final victory against Brazil, whilst a monumental surprise, looked a real turning point for Lowe’s team. Whilst the belief of success had always been there this was a true return to the nature of German teams from days gone by, the more successful teams.
In 2006 and 2010 respectively we have seen Germany try to play with rather more flamboyancy in order to make best use of the current crop of exciting attacking talent that have come through courtesy of the post-millennium restructuring of German football, however this has come at a cost. Gone was the admittedly stereotypical steel and organisation from the German team, mistakes were creeping into performances and players weren’t performing in the important matches.
Lowe has somehow managed to reintroduce these characteristics to the class of 2014 with the attacking flair still evident, there is the perfect balance. The way Germany simply relaxed, remained professional and managed to score seven goals in their semi-final against Brazil proved this and has the European side heading into tonight’s match with fantastic belief.
Argentina on the other hand have had a less than smooth run to the final with the Argentine media absolutely hammering coach Alejandro Sabella for what the perceived to be ‘poor tactics’ in the opening matches whilst others groups criticises the influence Lionel Messi appeared to have not just on his teammates but also his coach.
What cannot be ignored however is how Lionel Messi has dragged his side to the latter stages of the tournament. A lot is made of the mark Diego Maradona left on the 1986 World Cup winning side and many suggest Messi will never be able to have that impact however the Barcelona forward has been outstanding in Brazil.
His last minute winning goal against Iran, his influential second-half performance in the tournament opener against Bosnia and Herzegovina which changed the tide of the match and a orchestrating display against Switzerland in the second round where he provided an inch perfect assist for Angel di Maria’s extra-time winning goal are all moments where Messi has led Argentina from the front.
These are the moments that are remembered for years to come, especially if Messi lifts the trophy in Rio this evening.
There have however been concerns about Messi’s overall fitness heading into tonight’s match with his father being particularly vocal in his concern for his son who he claims is ‘exhausted’. This showed in the semi-final against the Netherlands with the 27-year-old failing to register a touch inside the Dutch penalty area throughout the entire match.
From a tactical perspective this match is so difficult to predict due to the similarities in playing style between the two teams, particularly when not in possession. Both Germany and Argentina love to press an opposing team high up the pitch with Sabella and Lowe both encouraging their forwards to put real pressure on defenders, particularly when a team tries to play out from the back.
In this respect the Dutch played right into Argentina’s hands in the semi-final with the South American’s putting the Dutch defence under pressure early and cutting out the easy build-up pass to one of Nigel de Jong or Georginio Wijnaldum. Even without the epitome of Argentinean energy in Angel di Maria’s absence the team still managed to press effectively.
Germany look to press in a similar manner and tonight’s match may see players having less time on the ball than in previous rounds. This could make for a rather ‘harem scarem’ match with both teams being rushed into making decisions on the ball which makes mistakes more likely or, and we certainly hope this isn’t the case from the view of neutral, we see a rather timid affair with both teams aware of the other’s strengths and on guard against making a mistake.
Argentina will be without Di Maria, which is a big blow, but the return of Sergio Aguero gives Sabella options up front. With Gonzalo Higuain’s shall we say, relaxed playing style, there have been times where Messi has had to kick the team into action. With Messi fatigue issues it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if Aguero is played through the middle as a centre-forward who can bring energy to that area, support Messi and put pressure on Mats Hummels who is still playing through the pain barrier having suffered a knee injury earlier in the tournament.
From a German perspective Toni Kroos has been one of the best players in the tournament. He has played in his naturally unassuming manner and influenced the outcome of every match he has played in. With a move to Real Madrid expected to go through following the World Cup, Kroos has done his worldwide stock no harm this summer and Argentina have to get to grips with him early on. He is almost at an Andrea Pirlo level of being able to dictate matches but rather more crucially he is mobile and can move further up the pitch and orchestrate attacks.
After a heroic performance from Javier Mascherano in the semi-final, with Kroos in full flow you would say the Barcelona midfielder has to put in a similar man marking job on Kroos to limit his effectiveness.
There is little left to do other than await tonight’s match. The World Cup final only comes around once every four years however there will be an iconic image. Be that Philipp Lahm lifting the trophy to signal the German approach to remodelling their footballing structure in 2000 was all worthwhile or Lionel Messi, launching himself into the pantheon of footballing gods alongside Diego Maradona, by lifting the famed trophy in Brazil.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Argentina survived a scare this evening with Lionel Messi’s 91st minute winning goal the difference between Alejandro Sabella’s side and Iran in a 1-0 victory for the South American giants.
The Iranians were once again well organised defensively as well as posing an efficient threat on the counter-attack and it wouldn’t have been too farfetched to suggest the underdogs deserved a victory, let alone the draw they so nearly earned.
The similarities between Italy’s performance against Costa Rica yesterday afternoon and Argentina’s against Iran were striking. Argentina had very little tempo when in possession of the ball however still squandered a number of chances in the first-half from set pieces with Ezequiel Garay and Federico Fernandez both heading over the bar from close range.
Iran, as they were against Nigeria in the week, were defensively strong. Javad Nekounam performed well as a holding midfielder, often dropping in at centre-half whilst Alireza Haghighi looked confident when dealing with balls delivered into the penalty area.
Alejandro Sabella after staunch criticism for his use of a 5-3-2 formation at the beginning of the opening fixture against Bosnia and Herzegovina selected Gonzalo Higuain from the beginning however the Napoli forward was almost passenger throughout aside from one chance in the first-half, leaving Messi isolated when withdrawing into a deep midfield position to receive the ball.
Argentina in fairness did have the better of the opening 45 minutes with Iran looking to consolidate a strong defensive display. The aforementioned Higuain chance came just before the half hour with the Napoli forward firing straight into Haghighi’s midriff from close range. Iran’s confidence grew from there with the half closing with Carlos Queiroz’s side going close from a corner through central defender Jalal Hosseini.
The half-time break appeared to have refocused Argentina with Pablo Zabaleta, Marcos Rojo and Sergio Aguero all looking to create a chance in the opening five minutes. From this moment however Iran looked to take control.
Argentina in search of an opening goal left far too many gaps in defence and midfield and should have been punished in the 55th minute when Ashkan Dejagah was denied a penalty. Replays showed a mistimed Zabaleta challenge was in actual fact, a foul. Dejagah had Iran’s next big chance ten minutes later when the Fulham midfielder forced an excellent save out of Sergio Romero following a diving header.
Panic set in to the Argentine team with attacks becoming frenzied and first touches slack. Alejandro Sabella looked to respond by introducing Rodrigo Palacio and Ezequiel Lavezzi but both struggled.
Charlton’s Reza Ghoochannejhad had put in a lot in terms of closing the Argentinean defence down however luck deserted the frontman in the final third with Romero pulling off yet another fantastic stop four minutes from time after another counter attack.
Whilst not the most aesthetically pleasing of playing styles it was difficult not to admire the focus and determination of an Iranian side plagued by off the pitch troubles prior to the tournament. A side, who were reportedly told not to swap shirts at the end of matches due to a financial inability to replace them, looked set to secure their second point of the tournament until a largely quiet Lionel Messi weaved his wand of a left foot.
With just three minutes of added time remaining Messi produced the trademark cut inside onto his strong left foot from the right hand side of the penalty area, taking two Iranians out of the game before curling a shot into the top corner in just the manner he has done so many times before.
Initially the crowd in Belo Horizonte, made up mostly by Argentineans, erupted in a wave of audible delight however the full-time whistle was accompanied by a small amount of discontent from supporters who felt Iran deserved better.
The victory spares Argentina’s blushed on an evening when they really didn’t deserve one point, let alone all three however the passage to the knockout stage has been forged by Lionel Messi who looks to be in the goalscoring form to carry his team to the latter stages.
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