Sao Paulo: Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella believes a well-rested Germany will have the advantage against the weary South Americans in Sunday’s World Cup final.
Sabella’s players advanced to the Maracana showpiece in a gruelling extra-time and penalty shoot-out battle with the Netherlands that the Argentina coach described as a “war”.
But Lionel Messi is not bothered about all those things and instead was enjoying the moment. Ecstatic at having reached the final, the superstar urged his team-mates to enjoy the achievement and that glory was just a “a step” away.
“I’m proud to be a part of this group. They are all phenomenons, what a match they played. What madness. We are in the final. Let’s enjoy it, it is just a little step more,” Messi said in a statement posted on his social media pages.
The fact that Germany have had an extra day’s rest and effectively had their 7-1 win over Brazil wrapped up inside half-an-hour could be crucial, Sabella said.
“Some of our players are sore, beaten, tired — the results of a war, so to speak,” said Sabella. “We have a final to play, with one day less to prepare and against a team like Germany, but with work, humility and seriousness, we’ll do all we can to make it all the way to the top.
“I’m very happy because we reached the final and now we will see what we can do,” he said. “We will give everything as usual, with humility, work and 100 per cent effort.”
Sabella spoke admiringly of German football, saying they often produced players with a “South American touch.” “Germany, throughout their entire history, have always shown physical might, tactical, mental prowess, and have always had players with a certain South American touch,” he said.
“The match is extremely difficult and I repeat the fact that they haven’t played extra time and we’ve played two, and played one day after Germany.
“Germany are always a very difficult hurdle to overcome. We’ll see if it’s a minor issue… The fact that we played after and the Germany game was decided in the first 45 minutes, so they could ease off in the second half, whereas we had to spend all the effort, and every last drop of sweat to reach the World Cup final.”
Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero repelled penalties from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder in the shoot-out after a cagey stalemate finished 0-0 following extra time at the Corinthians Arena.
Argentina, chasing their third World Cup title, last reached the final in Italy in 1990, when they lost 0-1 to erstwhile West Germany.
Sabella, meanwhile, praised defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano, who pulled off a sensational block to deny Arjen Robben. “Mascherano is a symbol, an emblem. We were able to move onto the semi-finals and he took this huge weight of his shoulders,” Sabella said.
“He’s an outstanding player. Other clubs wanted to take him. I don’t need to make any other comments. (Pep) Guardiola, (Rafa) Benitez, these coaches wanted to take him with them. He’s an emblem for the national squad on the field of play and off it,” he added.
Substitute Sergio Aguero, who converted a penalty in the shoot-out, said: “It means so many things… A lot of people didn’t think that Argentina would be in the final, but we know what a good team we have,” he said.
A happy Mascherano, who denied Arjen Robben an 89th-minute winner, said: “We showed that we know what’s at stake. This team put their heart where their lungs should be, but you need more than that to win. Each of us was intelligent enough to understand what was best for the team, which is why we played a very good game. We couldn’t get a goal, that’s true, but then Sergio did the business during the penalties.”
About the final, Mascherano offered a balanced-but-determined thought. “We’re going to be playing in the most important match of our lives, but we need to enjoy it too, because the road here has been very long and we’ve taken a lot of knocks along the way. Right now there’s happiness, a sense of responsibility and expectation in the air. Let’s hope we’re up to the task.”
Ezequiel Lavezzi declared that they were the better team on the day. “Even though it wasn’t a brilliant game to watch, I think that overall we were the better side. Argentina were the ones who took the initiative and who attacked more, while the Netherlands barely troubled us,” was the verdict of a beaming Lavezzi, before outlining the key to Argentina’s triumph.
“It was down to the hard graft we all put in. We stuck together, did what we needed to do and even almost grabbed the winner late on.”
Maxi Rodriguez, who came on as a substitute for Lavezzi and scored the winning penalty, said: “I knew that at some point, I’d get on the field again, and maybe even make an important contribution.”
Argentina: Sergio Romero; Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis, Ezequiel Garay, Marcos Rojo; Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia, Enzo Perez (Rodrigo Palacio 81), Lionel Messi; Ezequiel Lavezzi (Maxi Rodriguez 101), Gonzalo Higuain (Sergio Aguero 82)
Netherlands: Jasper Cillessen; Stefan de Vrij, Ron Vlaar, Bruno Martins Indi (Daryl Janmaat 46), Dirk Kuyt, Daley Blind; Nigel de Jong (Jordy Clasie 62), Arjen Robben, Georginio Wijnaldum, Wesley Sneijder; Robin van Persie (Klaas-Jan Huntelaar 90+6)
Man of the Match: Sergio Romero
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)