The 20th edition of the FIFA World Cup comes to a conclusion on Sunday at the famous Estadio Maracana in Rio de Janeiro with Argentina and Germany vying for football’s ultimate prize.
It’s been 28 years since Argentina beat Germany in a World Cup final at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca in Mexico, with Diego Maradona leading his nation to their second title in eight years. At Italia ’90, Argentina was on the losing end via an 85th minute Andreas Brehme penalty-kick at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, handing West Germany their third—and last—World Cup trophy.
The two football powers have met twice since—both occasions at the quarterfinal stage— with Germany winning in a penalty shootout on home-soil in 2006, before inflicting a humiliating 4-0 defeat to a Maradona managed La Albiceleste side four years later in South Africa.
Here’s how this year’s finalists match-up.
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Despite collecting four clean sheets in six matches, Argentina’s Sergio Romero is not of the same quality and class of his counterpart. Manuel Neuer is arguably the best goalkeeper—at the very least top three—in world football today. The German shot-stopper perfectly epitomizes the modern-day goalkeeper; the position demands more than just the ability to block shots. Neuer has looked more like a sweeper than a ‘keeper, quickly anticipating breaches to his defensive line and closing down any space that the opposition can exploit. If you had a choice between Romero and Neuer, the decision is a no-brainer—the German wins by a landslide.
From a purely statistical standpoint, Argentina should be given the edge in this category. In six matches, the two-time champions have only conceded three goals—all in the group stage—and have yet to pick the ball out of their net in the knockout round. What was perceived to be a weak point has surprisingly been a position of strength—Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Garay and Marcos Rojo deserve to be signalled out for their overall performances. However, it’s difficult to bet against the Germans with Mats Hummels leading the back-four and the return of Philipp Lahm to his natural right-back position. Per Mertesacker’s lack of pace and agility was exposed by Algeria in the Round of 16, though, the soft spot was as a result to Hummels’ absence due to illness. Benedikt Howedes merits mentioning at left-back; having started every game, the Schalke defender has been a model of consistency for manager Joachim Low. It comes down to experience and adaptability, and Germany is far superior.
The injury to Angel Di Maria is a tremendous loss for Argentina, as his distribution and pace down the left side is a critical component of his side’s attack. Although di Maria was a slow starter and virtually invisible during the group stage, the Madridista turned it on when it mattered most, scoring the late match-winner in extra-time against Switzerland, and provided the assist to Gonzalo Higuain’s lone goal in the quarterfinal victory over the Belgians. From a defensive perspective, Javier Mascherano has been the backbone in the middle, fearlessly putting his body on the line without hesitation. Once again, strength in numbers gives Germany the edge, though. Their depth of quality is unmatched. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira provide the defensive structure and discipline in the hole that allows Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller to wreak havoc in the opposition’s zone. Mario Gotze and Mesut Ozil have been less than stellar, though, Andre Schurrle has seized his opportunities off the bench. Overall, the entire midfield has the ability to score goals and make an impact at any given time.
Eight goals in six games is nothing to boast about, though, it’s impossible to not give the nod to Argentina with the likes of Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero as options. Granted only Messi has stolen the show (four goals) and risen to the challenge of leading his nation to a World Cup final. Higuain has produced one solid performance against Belgium, and Aguero has for the most part been a non-factor through injury. Thomas Muller (five goals) and Toni Kroos (three goals) are versatile and can be used at various positions, though, Miroslav Klose (two goals) is the only true striker on the roster. Germany have scored more goals (17) and have been by far more dominating in attack, but the Messi factor trumps all.