RIO DE JANEIRO— All you need to know about how much Brazilians hate the idea of Argentina winning the World Cup Final on Sunday is that many are them are ready to root for the same Germany team that just handed Brazil an embarrassing 7-1 loss in the semifinals.
Yes, you read that right, the Germans could have an advantage in support in the Maracana on Sunday, and when you consider the confidence boost from Tuesday’s thrashing of Brazil, the Germans are widely regarded as the favorites to lift a fourth World Cup title.
Don’t go chiseling that trophy just yet though. Argentina has a much better chance of winning than the team is being given, and while the past three wins have been close shaves, what the Argentines have shown is a real commitment to organized defending and team shape, which will be absolutely crucial to beating a German team that has shown a real affinity for punishing mistakes and bad defending.
Argentina’s quest for a third World Cup begins in midfield, where Javier Mascherano’s presence will cause problems for Germany in a way that teams like Brazil and Portugal simply couldn’t. Mascherano’s ability to read the game and snuff out attacks before they really get started has been key to keeping pressure of Argentina’s back four.
With that support as a shield, Argentina’s defense has come together to form a solid unit, led by Ezequiel Garay’s excellent play in central defense. Marcos Rojo has been a revelation at left back, while the much-maligned Martín Demichelis has had a solid tournament and Pablo Zabaleta has held his own despite being widely-regarded as the defense’s weak link.
If Argentina’s defense, and Mascherano, can keep Germany’s counterattacking trio quiet, we should see a very close game that can turn on the play of none other than Lionel Messi, who isn’t likely to draw as much special defensive attention against Germany has he did against Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. Jogi Loew may decide to shadow Messi much the way the Dutch did, but it would be out of character for the Germans to shift around their team structure to deal with one player.
If Germany tries to play Messi straight up, he could punish the Germans, and show the form he flashed in the group stages, when teams weren’t quite as set up to deny him the ball.
For Germany to win, keeping the ball away from Messi in the final third is obviously a must, especially given how relatively slow Germany’s central defenders are. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is key to helping provide support as well by being aggressive off his line and patrolling an area further up the field than most goalkeepers.
I see Germany struggling to keep the ball away from Messi, who should find the net, while Sergio Romero posts another shutout as the Argentine defense shines and quiets the Brazilian fans very likely to be at the Maracana cheering Germany on.
As if this past week couldn’t get any worse for Brazil, it just might hit bottom if Messi and Argentina lift the World Cup trophy on Sunday. It might sound like a long shot, but I see that very scenario playing out.