July 5th - Argentina def. Belgium 1-0 (Quarterfinals)
July 9th - Argentina tied Netherlands 0-0 (4-2 in Penalty Kicks) (Semifinals)
Germany: Shkodran Mustafi (Out - Hamstring) Algeria: Angel Di Maria (Doubtful - Thigh)
The 20th World Cup Champion will be determined today as Germany and Argentina square off in the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. Neither team is a stranger to this spotlight. Argentina have won the World Cup twice and appeared in the final game on 2 other occasions. Germany have 3 World Cup titles to their credit and have made 4 other appearances in the championship. Between the two, fully one-third of all championship game appearances have been made by these two foes.
This is also not the first championship fought between the two. The same teams appeared in the 1990 World Cup final in Italy as West Germany went on to defeat Argentina 1-0. Argentina has not been back to the final game since. Germany fell 2-0 to Brazil in the 2002 final in Japan.
Stylistically, this expected to be a close game. Both teams employ variations of a 4-3-3 system and like playing keep-away with the ball through the middle of the field. Germany have more balance throughout the field in attack but Argentina have the more potent scorers with players like Lionel Messi. Defensively, Germany not the fastest team but make up for that with great awareness and positional play. Argentina have speed but some mental lapses throughout the centre of the field and their own penalty area.
Germany have made limited personnel changes throughout the tournament but their question marks are on defence and at striker. Per Mertesacker started through the group stage but was sidelined by flu and hasn't made his way back in yet. He may make a reappearance today as Mats Hummels has been dealing with tendonitis in his knees. At striker, Miroslav Klose has started the last couple games. Doesn't have the pace to go a full 90+ minutes though so Joachim Low has to decide if he wants to use him as a sub or continue in a starting role. Mario Gotze is the likely replacement if Klose sits.
Argentina have a pair of selection issues as well although one is a luxury choice. Sergio Aguero is fully healthy after an injury and available to start today instead of Ezequiel Lavezzi. Sabella will need to decide if that's a switch worth making after Lavezzi has played all knockout round games, not to mention Aguero's poor form before being injured. Defensively, either Federico Fernandez or Martin Demichelis will start next to Ezequiel Garay. This is a crucial decision for Argentina to make depending on how they think Germany will hurt them most. Demichelis the more intelligent defender but lacks top end pace or speed. Fernandez more mobile but susceptible to defensive lapses.
In the German Third: I would be surprised if Lionel Messi doesn't line up at right wing today. The chance to have him matched up against Howedes is too good for Argentina to pass up. Outside of that, it's not a great situation for Argentina. Higuain and Aguero/Lavezzi can be neutralized by the rest of this German defence and they still have to find a way past Neuer. Barring a miracle recovery, they also won't have Angel Di Maria to make plays in the midfield. It's Advantage: Germany with the caveat that Lionel Messi has the potential to wreak havoc if matched up one on one with Howedes. I'd personally put Mertesacker in the centre and move Boateng out to cover Messi but doubt that will happen.
In the Midfield: Both teams like to play possession and here and minimize the number of turnovers they commit. Can break down the personnel but simple matter is this. Both teams do the same thing, but Germany better at both and better able to counter-attack off of mistakes. Oh, and strictly based on personnel, they have an advantage as well. Advantage: Germany.
In the Argentine Third: Becoming a broken record but another bad matchup for Argentina. Germany love to attack the centre of the defence with speed and passing. Argentina either goes with intelligence and little speed or speed with mental errors. In either case, Germany can take advantage. Also would be very concerned about Rojo and Zabaleta being caught upfield on counter-attacks. Ask Brazil how that worked against this team. Advantage: Germany.
Goalkeeping: I questioned his #1 in the world status before the tournament. I think there's a couple guys that still have a claim but not doubting any more. Manuel Neuer is an x-factor on a team that really didn't need one. His ability to play sweeper in defence as well is going underrated. Forces the opponent back on their heels having that extra defender type player back. Advantage: Germany
Germany will win if:
Won't have as much possession as they usually do, need to be patient about that. Ghana is the only team they've faced that were able to get sustained midfield possession and Germany panicked when it happened. Keep in control, keep Argentina and Messi away from the scoring area and counter-attack quick when they gain possession. Offensively, they can afford to hang on to the ball as well, but always need to look at getting in to scoring position. Stagnated in games in the group stage because they were content to just sit on the ball. Need to look at attacking the centre of the field from different angles.
Argentina will win if:
Great players are able to take over games such as this one. And Argentina have the best in the world lining up for them in this game. The only knock on Messi's career has been a lack of titles at the international level. If Messi can take over this game the way greats such as Pele and Maradona have before him, his legacy will be cemented amongst them as the greatest players ever. Argentina absolutely need a legendary game out of him today. I do not see a way for them to win if he doesn'tt ake the game over on a personal level.
If Lionel Messi weren't playing, this would be a very mismatched contest. Still is in my opinion but Messi can keep Argentina in the game. Germany the victor of their 4th championship and score at least 2 goals. Whether Argentina score depends on Messi's game.
de Jong and van Persie both good to go. Cannot stress enough how big a benefit it is that de Jong in particular is healthy. That's the difference maker in this game. I predicted Argentina would win this game, de Jong's presence is enough for me to flip that to Netherlands winning.
Goalkeepers: Tim Krul (#23), Michel Vorm (#22)
Defenders: Daryl Janmaat (#7), Terence Kongolo (#14), Joel Veltman (#13), Paul Verhaegh (#12)
Midfielders: Jordy Clasie (#16), Leroy Fer (#18), Jonathan de Guzman (#8)
Netherlands: Nigel de Jong (Doubtful - Back), Leroy Fer (Questionable - Injury), Robin van Persie (Questionable - Illness), Ron Vlaar (Questionable - Injury)
Argentina: Sergio Aguero (Probable - Thigh), Angel di Maria (Out - Thigh)
There's a lingering element of mystery in what both squads might look like today. Both sides are dealing with multiple injury concerns to key players which likely has both managers tinkering with different options and fitness reports this morning.
Big questions for Netherlands are regarding van Persie, Vlaar and de Jong. de Jong is likely out as he deals with a lingering leg issue. van Persie is the biggest concern though. Louis van Gaal revealed yesterday van Persie was dealing with an intestinal problem. and was doubtful for today's game. I have to think RVP would play if he was at all capable but his match fitness my ultimately be what keeps him out if he is that ill. Ron Vlaar is also carrying a knock and is a question in this game. If van Persie can't go, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar should step in as a same style replacement. Things may get tricky if Vlaar can't play though. van Gaal may opt for Kongolo as a centre back replacement, or look to Fer or de Guzman in the midfield as a sub and drop Blind and Kuyt back to true full back positions.
Argentina may have Sergio Aguero back from a thigh injury. His starting place is in doubt though after a poor run of games earlier in the tournament and being capably replaced by Ezequiel Lavezzi. The big loss for Argentina is Angel di Maria in the midfield who will not play due to a thigh injury of his own. di Maria has been Argentina's best player in this tournament (Yes, that includes Messi) and will be difficult to replace in the Argentine midfield. The entire Argentine midfield is a bit of a guess at this point. Mascherano appears the only lock as 6 players have claims to a starting role in this game with di Maria out.
Here's your interesting stat of the day. In 8 previous meetings between these teams, Argentina have never managed to defeat the Netherlands in 90 minutes. For their only victory over the Dutch, you have to go back to the 1978 World Cup final when a pair of extra time goals handed Argentina their first ever World Cup title.
The last meeting between these two teams occurred 8 years ago in the 2006 World Cup. This game promises more offensive fireworks then that scoreless draw did though with the likes of Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben on the field today.
A bit of a stylistic contrast between the two teams today. The Dutch are playing an adapted version of the total football they are known for, and will use speed and long ball movement to attack defences vertically and create mismatches in the offensive third. Argentina are a bit more methodical in attack, working their way up field and constantly moving their back line up to shrink the field and overwhelm their opponents.
Netherlands have varied their formation slightly throughout the tournament but the 5-3-2 type formation has worked wonders this tournament. Daley Blind and Dirk Kuyt will likely take up the critical wing back positions that have been the driving key to Dutch success so far this tournament. Up front, the Dutch attacking trio is one of the most dangerous in the world, although they may be without Robin van Persie in this contest.
Argentina have switched personnel as necessary but should continue with their 4-3-3 attacking formation in this contest. Argentina allow their front 3 to roam in attack with support from their midfielders and full backs. The midfield is a question mark for Argentina as they are without top player Angel di Maria due to injury.
In the Dutch Third: Whether it's Aguero or Lavezzi facing them, this is a big area of concern facing the Dutch. Messi/Higuain/Whoever form an attacking trio that's just as potently dangerous to the Dutch goal as their attackers are. My biggest concern for the Dutch is Messi's ability to operate in the middle of the field. This is a young back line and they can drop too deep relative to their central midfield, especially with de Jong out. They continually expose space in the centre of the field just above their penalty area and Messi will rain goals in from that area. Advantage: Argentina
In the Midfield: Would be advantage Argentina if di Maria were available. Both sides missing key players (de Jong) which take away from the luster of the midfield battle in this game. I like the Dutch ability to counter-attack and expose Argentina on the flanks defensively. I don't like their ability to defend the Argentine possession and keep them from controlling the middle of the field. I anticipate a relatively free-flowing game through the midfield as neither side adept at defending this area and both teams like getting forward quick and in numbers. Advantage: Even
In the Argentine Third: A lot hangs on whether or not van Persie can go at 100%. I think if he can't then Huntelaar has to play no matter what. Huntelaar not the same class as van Persie with his control and finishing though and this game will hinge on Robben and Sneijder for the Dutch. I think Robben and Sneijder amongst the rest of the Dutch players can expose some holes in the Argentine lines, particularly on Robben's flank. Advantage: Netherlands. By how much depends on RVP's health though.
Goalkeeping: Cillessen with a bit more overall quality to his game. Romero has stepped up this tournament though. I would give the Dutch a slight edge except I have to question Cillessen's mental state after being yanked for the shootout against Costa Rica. Been a goaltender in hockey personally my whole life and situations like that can mess with you. Advantage: Even
Netherlands will win if:
Goes without saying for everyone facing Argentina but need to bottle up Messi. Will need Depay/Wijnaldum in the midfield to play defensive soccer today and limit the space Messi has to move through the middle of the field. Dangerous everywhere but far less bite if he is forced to go wide around Martins Indi. Offensively, let Robben get the ball in attack and do what he's been doing all tournament. Has been as dangerous as Messi this tournament and should open up some attacking lanes on the ball.
Argentina will win if:
Aggression through the midfield and in the Dutch half. This is a young Dutch team outside of a few players and they have been reckless on the ball throughout the tournament. Force pressure in their own half and they should end up with some juicy chances and space to operate in. Defensively, special attention needs to be paid to Robben. Can't allow him to fly down the field with pace and either shoot on goal or find wide-open teammates.
Should be a closer game than yesterday (or at least we can all hope it is). There isn't much separating these two teams. Both have incredible attacking talent playing in top form facing some suspect defensive lines. Both have some key injuries they're trying to recover from. My gut is saying it's the Dutch, but looking through all of the above, my head doesn't see it. My guess is this game's decided late and Argentina's quality up front wins out.
It's the most lopsided victory in World Cup semifinal history, and sees the host nation shockingly sent to the third place in humiliating fashion.
5 German goals in 18 minutes, including 4 goals in 6 minutes set World Cup records for scoring proficiency and sent Germany through to their 8th World Cup final, yet another mark for the record books.
Brazil came flying out of the gate with loads of energy and made it appear this would be an even contest. That lasted for the first 5 minutes or so before Germany imposed their will on the game. Germany got their offensive flow going once they settled in and were rewarded in the 11th minute with the opening goal.
Off of a corner kick, Dante and Marcelo appeared to get their wires crossed which ended in the ball finding a wide open Thomas Muller at the top of the 6 yard box. Muller neatly directed the ball goalward past Julio Cesar to give Germany the 1-0 lead.
Brazil's best chance at equalizing came a few minutes later. A blazing Marcelo run down the left flank ended with a sliding tackle from Philipp Lahm which sent Marcelo tumbling to the ground. As the stadium clamored for a penalty kick, none was coming and some pushing and shoving between the two teams ensued.
That set up one of the most stunning runs of play anyone has ever seen in the World Cup and one which could not have been predicted in any way. It also saw yet another historic record get broken by Germany.
A mistake by Maicon in the midfield led to an odd man rush for Germany. Mesut Ozil dropped the ball off for Miroslav Klose and while his initial shot was saved by Cesar, his followup struck home for the 2-0 Germany lead. Klose's second goal of the tournament was also his 16th in World Cup Finals history, a new all-time record surpassing Brazil's own Ronaldo.
There was no rest for the Brazilian defence as 6 minutes later they were down 5-0 instead of 2-0. A bouncing cross across the area fell to Toni Kroos at the top of the penalty area who volleyed home for his first goal of the tournament. Kroos doubled his tally 2 minutes following as he tucked the ball away after a give-and-go with Sami Khedira on the rush. Khedira drained his first on a rush 3 minutes later on a similar rush and a shell-shocked Brazilian team found themselves out of the game just a half-hour in.
It was simply a matter of playing the game out from that point on. Substitute Andre Schurrle added insult to injury in the second half, scoring twice amongst a bevy of saves from Manuel Neuer. Oscar was able to notch a lone Brazilian goal in the final minute but it was far too late for the Brazilian fans who rained down boos in response to the Brazil goal.
A stunning exit from the tournament for Brazil who have to face their humiliation with a third-place game in 4 days against the Argentina-Netherlands loser. Germany meanwhile will look forward to a final in which they should surely be favoured against either opponent.
Brazil: Oscar (90')
Germany: Thomas Muller (11'), Miroslav Klose (23'), Toni Kroos (24', 26'), Sami Khedira (29'), Andre Schurrle (69', 79')
Brazil: Dante (Yellow 68')
Man of the Match
Toni Kroos was named Man of the Match for this one. Scored twice in the first half onslaught and probably had a part in some of the other ones. Can't remember really, they're all blurred together at this point. Realistically, this award could go to anyone wearing red and black today. Can't recall the last time I've seen not only a blowout of that quality but a team making it look so effortless in the process.
There was hope they could come back from 1-0. There was even a chance at 2-0. But Toni Kroos' first goal in the 24th minute, just seconds after Miroslav Klose had put Germany up by two was the dagger. Brazil's spirit looked completely broken at this point, and things never got any better from there.
What we learned from Brazil
I said beforehand they would have problems beforehand without Silva and Neymar. But no one predicted how bad this defeat would be. I genuinely don't know where Brazil go from here. A loss of this magnitude in a World-Cup semifinal, at home to boot, is unprecedented. No creativity offensively without Neymar but that problem paled in comparison to their defensive line. There are zero words right now that can explain how horrific that showing was.
What we learned from Germany
A clinical and brutal dismantling of the host country as Germany book their place in a record 8th World Cup final. Locked down their penalty area against a Neymar-less Brazilian team and took full advantage of a Brazilian defence that put on its best impression of a sieve today. Struggled a bit in the second half after Mertesacker replaced by Hummels but can't find any complaints when you win a game 7-1.
Germany are back in the World Cup final for the first time since 2002. Brazil meanwhile will have to find a way to shake off this loss and play in 3 days time in the Third Place match. Thankfully for Brazilian fans, Thiago Silva will be back from suspension in order to play that game.