As I sit down to pen my thoughts on the final, I find myself in a kind of dilemma over which team should I back as the ultimate winners. While my technical analysis clearly says the Germans are overwhelming favourites, my heart roots for an Argentine triumph that would allow the fans to watch Lionel Messi lift the Cup and join the select band of soccer greats like Pele and Maradona.
Here is a situation that almost defies the very logic that football is a team game. On Sunday, at the Estadio Maracana, the battle of wits between the two coaches would revolve around Messi.
I am confident that while Joachim Loew would be more preoccupied about how to stop Messi, Alejandro Sabella would purely concentrate on stretching the German defence to the wide to create more space for his star striker. Never after Maradona’s great show in Mexico 1986, has one single footballer drawn so much attention in a world championship.
Tactically speaking, Loew, despite having a team that has shown improvement in every match, has a bigger problem on hand. Against Brazil in the semi-final, the Germans attacked with ruthless abandon. Loew’s problem is he cannot take a similar approach against Argentina fearing massive backlash from Messi.
I have a feeling that though Loew would start with the trio of Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos, he would adopt a more conservative style of tightening up the defence and then starting the attack from the deep. He has to be more careful as leaving space for Messi in the defence could cost Germany the Cup. It is definitely a problem since it can curb their natural play as happened with the Dutch in the semi-final.
Sabella’s approach could be a very predictable one. He would go into the final with a 4-3-3 formation, though, I am sure, he would have been more comfortable with a five-man defence. There is a possibility the Germans would ask defender Benedikt Hoewedes to play the role of shadowing Messi and Sabella’s task would be to ask his other attackers to use the space.
Hoewedes keeps the left flank protected from counter-attacks and may just be the perfect defensive obstacle for Messi's wing play. At the same time, we must not forget the fact that Messi, despite being kept under close watch in all the matches, has still managed to score four goals in six games.
I have taken myself off from active coaching almost 10 years ago. But while watching the keenly fought encounters on television, I sometime put myself in the shoes of the current crop of coaches and try thinking how I would have solved the problems.
Given a chance to coach Argentina, I, too, would have started with a 4-3-3 formation and waited patiently to gain more possession of the ball.
While going into the attack, I perhaps, would have preferred to reverse the style with three more players assisting Messi. My choice to start the attack would have been Jaiver Mascherano, who, apart from being a champion defensive midfielder, has excellent distribution qualities.
Putting myself in Loew’s place on the German bench I can realise how keen he would be for an early goal. Loew’s team has won every game in which they have scored first in this World Cup and they would like to wrap things up pretty early. Going by the statistics, Germany opened the scoreline within the first 15 minutes against Portugal, France, and Brazil. Argentina, on the other hand, have been slow starters so far, scoring late winners in the group stage and finding a last-gasp extra-time decider against Switzerland. Sabella’s side will have to concentrate all their efforts on stopping the Germans from building an early lead.
History is inevitable when these two sides clash in the final. Either Germany will become the first European team to win a World Cup in South America, or Argentina will lift the famous trophy in their rival’s own backyard. As such, each player in both sides will have to be at their best. Sitting in the sidelines, the coaches would keep on shifting their plans depending on the situation.
At the same time, they would expect their wards to come up with career-defining performances — without that no tactics and strategy could do the trick.