Saturday, 12 July 2014

When Old Rivals Meet

20th World Cup Final: Germany V Argentina, Maracana, Rio di Janerio (Sunday, 4pm – 8pm BST)

Matthaeus lifts the World Cup (with manager Beckenbauer just to the right), July 8th 1990
You know, four years ago I started previewing the Netherland’s chances of winning the World Cup by bemoaning Scotland’s luck in facing them.  Well it’s dejavouz all over again because for the fourth European Championships in a row, Scotland will face one of the World Cup finalists.  We were drawn with Germany for Euro 2004, had both the World Cup finalists for Euro 2008 and last time out had the defending champions who went on to pick up the World Cup as well.  Well now we’ve got Germany again, and not just that but we’re their next competitive match, after the small matter of Sunday’s World Cup final.

The strange thing though is that this Germany team have not been the force they were in South Africa.  Yes, they suffered defeats to Serbia and then to Spain in the semi but they did sweep aside England and (more pertinently given Sundays opponents) Argentina.  Maybe it was manager Löw’s attempt to make Germany less of a counter-attacking side (their 4-2-1-3 formation only applied when they were on attack, otherwise it was the conventional 4-2-3-1) swapping that formation for a 4-3-3 formation.

A result of that attempt to be more pro-active has been that re-shaping as well as some ackward selection decisions.  Ozil has not been nearly as creative as he was under Löw’s new system, while Bayern Munich’s Goetze has looked at times like a round peg trying to fit into a square hole.  At least these guy’s are getting game time though – Lukas Podolski has dropped out of the team altogether.

In spite of handing out spankings to Portugal and to Brazil lets not forget that Germany haven’t convinced at all times.  Ghana could have (and should have) beaten them in the group stages, while Algeria had their chances in the last 16 tie.  What is ominous for tomorrow is that Germany’s midfield of Schweinsteiger and Khedera are looking back on form.  Also looking to getting into serious form is Toni Kroos, who bagged a brace in Tuesday’s semi final.  This three will provide the protection for whoever Germany play at the back, with their pressing game,  and also the foundation for Muller, Ozil & co (whoever gets the nod for tomorrow).   Argentina have no chance, right?

Well not exactly.  Since the knock out stages, Messi has sort of gone missing, conventional wisdom dictates that he is due a game.  A performance at the next game would confirm his status as the best player in the world right now.  With Sabella as coach, Messi would be given the same sort of platform to perform as Maradona was given in 1986.

Whilst not as tactically as innovative as that 1986 side – the first to win the World Cup playing 3-5-2 – Sabella’s side is from the Bilardismo school of Argentinian football – the polar opposite of Mennoti, Bielsa and Pekerman – in that his sides have been safety first sides.  In this respect, the key man for Argentina has not been any of their attacking options but the re-cycled centre-back Javier Mashcerano, back playing in his preferred position of midfield anchor.  No moment typified this than when Mascherano’s intervention stopped Robben’s near certain chance at scoring in added time in Wednesdays semi.

What this match looks like coming down to is that idea, floated by Jose Mourinio, that it will be the moments of transition that will decide the match.  Those moments where one side is dispossessed when their players are slightly out of position.  It was these moments that Germany controlled brilliantly on Tuesday and will need to do so again to beat a much more defensively cohesive Argentina side.  Yet Germany’s high line also provides a weakness for Argentina to attack, especially if they play Messi, Higuain and Lavessi as the attacking three players.

This will be the sixth meeting in the World Cup between these sides.  They first met in the group stages in 1966, a 0-0 draw at Villa Park saw both sides through to the quarter finals.  Then came the two finals. In the final in 1986, a Brown goal midway through the first half and a Valdano goal 10 minutes into the second half put Argentina on easy street, Germany struck back with goals from Rumenigge and Voller to level with 10 minutes to go.  With three minutes to go a Germany attack broke down, the ball came to Maradonna who put a through ball to Burrachaga (above) who slotted past Schumacher.  The final four years later was different – a tight bad tempered affair that saw the first sendings off in a World Cup final – Argentina’s Pedro Monzon was sent off in the 65th minute for fouling Jurgen Klinsmann while Gustavo Dezotti was sent off in stoppage time for manhandling Jurgen Kohler.  Sensinni’s foul on Rudi Voller with 6 minutes to go saw West Germany awarded the penalty that Andreas Brehme converted with.  Still the worst game of football (alongside the 9 in a row Old Firm game in 1997) that I’ve ever seen.

16 years passed before they met again, in the quarter finals of the 2006 tournament.  The tie in Berlin finished 1-1 – Ayala just after half time before Klose equalised with 10 minutes to go – with Germany maintaining their record of not losing on penalties thus ending Argentina’s own 100% record.  Their last meeting was four years ago in the quarters again when Germany romped home 4-0 – their counterattacking was probably at it’s peak in that match as Muller, Klose (2) and Friedrich grabbed the goals in Cape Town.

With the best team on the planet in transition, there is an unexpected vacancy at the top.  Whether it will be a German side that has been there or thereabouts in recient years, losing out to Spain in the Euro’s in 2008 and the World Cup four years ago, or whether Messi will deliver that performance in the World Cup that’s the only thing missing from his CV.  Tomorrow’s final will hopefully not mirror the 1990 final or the first meeting in 1966.  This tournament deserves a better send off than any of the last 6 tournaments have provided.

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