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Dublin: 13°C Monday 19 April 2021

Millions await the 'nature versus nurture' World Cup final

Argentina, and one very special player, will attempt to combat the impressive Germans.

Germany manager Joachim Loew and Miroslav Klose (right) during a training session at the Estadio Sao Januario.
Germany manager Joachim Loew and Miroslav Klose (right) during a training session at the Estadio Sao Januario.
Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

MIKEY STAFFORD reports from Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro

TONIGHT WE WILL see a German plan come gloriously to fruition unless Argentina, inspired by the talents of one very special player, can find a way to win. It’s the nature versus nurture World Cup final.

Sometimes a triumph, like Spain’s four years ago, is the product of a nation’s long and concerted efforts. Others, like Italy’s in 2006, is proof that the right collection of players at the right time can make a mockery of the best-laid plans.

Germany are more than a decade down a road Argentina have not yet started building, but with a side based on their defensive strengths and the genius of Lionel Messi there is a chance of another flash-in-the-pan World Cup.

It is 24 years since Germany won their third World Cup and, while they triumphed at Euro ’96, a generation of players were allowed slide into mediocrity, with the nadir coming at the European Championships four years later.

The champions surrendered their crown meekly, winning a solitary point in three group games and heading home to disgrace and a period of collective navel gazing that delivered us to this point.

A wonderfully talented team of wonderfully talented players on the cusp of fulfilling the potential they have been displaying for years now at club and international level.

Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm — these are the fruits of the German labours inspired by that failure 14 years ago. Players identified early and coached in a specific manner since a young age so that they could play with the precision and speed that saw hosts Brazil eviscerated in their semi-final.

Joachim Löw was assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann for two years before taking over as coach in 2006 and after a decade he will tomorrow lead out a team created very much to his specifications. Only injured winger Marco Reus is missing from his preferred 11.
Alejandro Sabella is the sixth man to manage Argentina since Löw first became involved with Germany. There has been passing-pressing guru Marcelo Bielsa, aesthete Jose Pekerman, icon Diego Maradona and most recently Sergio Batista — who lost his job after Argentina were eliminated from the Copa America they hosted at the quarter-final stage.

There was no national enquiry, no coaching blueprint drawn up and no rebirth of Argentinian football. They simply hired an unassuming Copa Libertadores-winning coach who was all set to take a job in the United Arab Emirates.

Brazil WCup Soccer Argentina Source: AP/Press Association Images

(A soccer fan poses for a photo, raising the sleeve of his jersey to show off his his tattoo of Argentina’s former soccer star Diego Maradona, outside the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro)

Since the 2011 Copa America debacle Sabella has succeeded where Pekerman, Maradona, Batista and the rest failed — he has managed to build a team around Messi that gets the best from Argentina’s incomparable jewel of a player.

With four goals in six matches the Barcelona attacker is close to keeping up his record of almost a goal a game for Sabella but, not only that, apart from goals Messi has become the creative force for the Albiceleste.

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He is not so much a one-man team as the pillar around which a team can be built. Arguably defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano has been better in Argentina’s most recent matches, but the former captain would not still be at the tournament were it not for the goals of the man who took the armband from him.

“He is the main player, the captain, the leader of this group of players,” said Pablo Zabaleta after the penalty shootout win over the Netherlands in the semi-final. “We can’t imagine how special it would be for Messi to lift the cup.”

For the 27-year-old to emulate Maradona and win a World Cup with an average side, his supporting cast must play their roles. While Germany are a team of Champions League winners and Bundesliga icons, Argentina will rely on a goalkeeper and central defender who played bit parts for their clubs this year.

Sergio Romero and Martin Demichelis are two of the unlikelier World Cup heroes but both the Monaco reserve and Manchester City punchline have been excellent in a defensive tour de force that has seen Argentina go 373 minutes without conceding a goal since Ahmed Musa’s equaliser for Nigeria in the final group match, which Argentina eventually won 3-2.

In front of Demichelis, Mascherano and Lucas Biglia provide a tremendous screen and, while fitness concerns and injury are likely to deny Sabella the talents of Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria, both Ezequiel Lavezzi and Enzo Perez are hard-working widemen who will narrow the pitch and deny Germany the space they so devastatingly exploited against Brazil.

Gonzalo Higuain has been largely a disappointment but his quality hints that one big performance is around the corner for the Napoli striker, whose partner also endured a quiet evening against the Netherlands by his own high standards.

Messi rarely lets two matches in a row pass him by and Bastian Schweinsteiger will be trusted with shadowing the Argentina talisman, allowing Sami Khedira to break forward in support of the front four of Ozil, Toni Kroos, Muller and Miroslav Klose — the only man involved to have played in a World Cup final before, in 2002.

A dozen years later and Germany have plotted and planned their way back to a final and this time they look a far more complete team than the Michael Ballack-inspired side that lost 2-0 to Brazil.

Neuer, Mats Hummels and Lahm are three of the best defensive players at this tournament and they overwhelmed the hosts with their physical power in midfield on Tuesday.

The nature of finals means momentum is carried in on both sides, but in Germany’s case it is six years, not six games, in the making.

“I believe we, as a team, are mature,” said Löw. “In the last few years we have been marching forward. Even if we are defeated, which I don’t think will happen, nothing will crumble. This team, and German football, does have a future.”

The future is now for Germany, whose nurturing should be rewarded with a fourth World Cup.

Probable teams: Germany (4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Benedikt Howedes; Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger; Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil; Miroslav Klose.

Argentina (4-4-2): Sergio Romero; Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis, Ezequiel Garay, Marcos Rojo; Enzo Perez, Lucas Biglia, Javier Mascherano, Ezequiel Lavezzi; Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi (c).

Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)

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About the author:

Mikey Stafford

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