Friday July 11 2014

Continental rivalry renewed in Germany - Argentina clash

Argentina’s Maxi Rodriguez (L) and Sergio Romero celebrate their team’s

Argentina’s Maxi Rodriguez (L) and Sergio Romero celebrate their team’s victory after the Netherlands and Argentina match. Argentina won 4-2 on penalties. AFP PHOTO  

By Mark Namanya

And here we are, back into history. Twenty four years after Argentina and Germany competed and split back-to-back World Cup finals, the two giants of the beautiful game will light up a glamorous Sunday evening when they meet in the 2014 final.

There couldn’t have been a better finale - the world’s best player lining up against the world’s best team. The other subplot will be a South American country hoping to defend the continent from a Germany incursion.

The only South American country sure to give outright support to Germany will be hosts Brazil, who will not stomach the thought of Lionel Messi holding aloft the World Cup trophy at the Maracana.
In their nervy semi-final victory over Holland, many Brazilians sold their tickets to either Holland or Argentina fans.

Their disappointment from the Tuesday mauling to Germany crushed them so hard they couldn’t see themselves in a stadium following a competition their country was no longer part of.

The few courageous ones, the soccer diehards, who made their way to Arena De Sao Paulo cheered Holland fervently. When Holland stroked around possession in an admittedly poor, there was applause for every Oranje pass. When Argentina had the ball, there were boos.

Argentina fans in retaliation basked in the historic mauling of Brazil. ‘7-1’ they chanted on a drizzling night. ‘Una, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete’ (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven) they screamed in ecstasy. Argentina fans took the mick out of Brazil’s misery from the stadium onto the trains and buses.

They were in bliss. You almost forgot that these were the same fans who a few minutes earlier had been biting their nails as they watched their shootout against Holland pensively.

It was delirium for them, joyfulness unconfined. Their advancement to the finals and Brazil’s humiliating defeat were almost too good to be true. Brazilians hate Argentines and Argentines hate Brazilians. The misery of one is the joy of the other.

Wednesday night was saddest for Brazilian fans seeing Argentines jubilating on their soil and make merry.

Imagine what it would feel for a Brazilian if Argentina upset Germany in Maracana on Sunday. The solace for Brazil is that Argentina will be underdogs.

Germany have to be favourites. Beating Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and Brazil with an aggregate score of 11-1 is a sensational feat for any side in the game. The Germans did it and just maybe could have scored more goals in both matches.

The Bayern factor
Gone are the days of German efficiency alone. Joachim Low’s side is a blend of efficiency, artistry and magnificence. In the annihilation, there were shades of jogo bonito (the beautiful game) without stepovers.
Their team has been built overtime and is collectively at a peak age, evergreen veteran Miroslav Klose being the exception.

The midfield of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller has been second at the World Cup. It helps the team’s cause that the Bayern Munich axis of Schweinsteiger-Kroos-Muller has been maintained by Low. And that is before you consider goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and skipper Philipp Lahm, two other influential Bayern members.

Spain’s 2010 World Cup victory was largely owed to the Barcelona alliance of Gerard Pique, Xavi, Hernandez, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, David Villa and Pedro. Bayern’s contribution in Germany’s ascent to the final and its team chemistry thus can’t be discounted.

Argentina’s progress to the quarters was solely down to their talisman’s brilliance but in games against Belgium and Netherlands, Alenjadro Sabella’s side proved they have found a formula of soldiering on when their superstar is nullified.

The defence of Pablo Zabaleta, Marcelo Rojo, the outstanding Ezequiel Garay and Martin Demichelis has not given away a goal in the knockout stages.

Shutting out Switzerland, Belgium and Arjen Robben’s Holland is testament to the resolve of the Albiceleste. Javier Mascherano’s tackle to deny Arjen Robben in the semi-finals kept them in the World Cup. Otherwise they were gone.

The trophy ratio
Angel Di Maria’s injury was a heavy blow to their attacking options but the return of Sergio Aguero couldn’t have been come at a better time.
The beauty of having Messi on the pitch is that he keeps his markers preoccupied and grounded. They, not he, will escort Messi stride-for-stride on the pitch when he walks, turns, drifts wide or inside. Indeed the only time Messi is under no watch is at delivering free kick or corners.

It is the attention that Messi attracts that could yet prove decisive. It delivered the late winner against Switzerland in the second round and although Belgium and Holland succeeded in snuffing the threat, Germany will spend time plotting how to contain the Argentina skipper with or without possession.

Germany have knocked out Argentina from each of the last two World Cups - on spot kicks in 2006 and 4-0 in 2010 – at the quarter final stage but won’t read much into history. History after all is there to be broken.

In the last 19 World Cup editions, Europe has a 10-9 edge over South Africa. An Argentina victory would draw the continents level, but that is not what the Albiceleste will be playing for.

This is a definitive game for both sides. On one hand is Germany, a team that has reached all last four World Cup semi-finals. Failure at the Maracana would condemn them as world football’s nearly side of modern times particularly losing the 2008 European Championship final and exiting at the semis in 2012.

For Argentina, it is Messi’s legacy. Winning the World Cup elevate him to the status of Diego Maradona, the icon of sporting genius in Argentina.