By Ken Boehlke
Argentina vs. Germany (F1 vs. G1)
2 way line – Argentina +0.5 (-140) Germany -0.5 (+120)
3 way line – Argentina (+255) Germany (+115) Draw (+230)
Outright Winner – Argentina (+145) Germany (-165)
Total – Over 2 (-115) Under 2 (-105)
Side: Argentina advanced to the World Cup final after yet another rather sleepy performance. Both teams did an excellent job of man-marking and specifically the Dutch did well keeping Lionel Messi at bay. Over the 120 minutes of soccer, Argentina only created four legitimate scoring chances, and one of them came direct from a free kick. However, there was one player that really stood out for Argentina and helped provide them most of the dangerous movement the Sky Blue and White provided. That man was Ezequiel Lavezzi. His ability to open up the right flank not only relieved some of the midfield pressure off Messi, but he also forced Bruno Martins Indi to take a yellow card, eventually causing him to removed for a substitute. It was a substitution that Louis van Gaal probably was not expecting to have to make, and it may have been the reason he ran out of subs before he was able to get Tim Krul on for the penalty shootout. Defensively, Argentina was stupendous again. They completely removed Arjen Robben from the match and frustrated Robin van Persie, and unbelievably only allowed Holland one shot on net. They will have to once again replicate that defensive intensity if they want to keep the suddenly red-hot German attack off the board. Argentina refused to commit defenders forward which may be necessary if they want to score on Germany.
As good as the Argentinian defense has been, it’s hard to believe they can once again hold up for 120 minutes without conceding. La Albiceleste would benefit majorly by having Ángel di María back in the squad in order to offer a little more pace down the wings and possibly exploit German wing backs that have made a habit of finding themselves in overlapping positions. Throughout the entire tournament there have been cries to stop relying on Messi to carry the team. In the previous two matches, they’ve gone away from him a bit, and have had major troubles scoring. In the Final, it’s time to throw caution to the wind and ask Lionel Messi to be his dominant self and act as the maestro of the Argentinian attack.
The Germans were afforded a ridiculous amount of space in the Brazilian third, and they knew exactly what to do with it. Scoring five times in the first 29 minutes Germany looked like one of the greatest sides in World Cup history. It was a display that was so good in the semifinal against Brazil that it’s hard to believe they can put together a another one that even comes close to that one. They will see a stark difference in the quality of defense when they take the field at the Maracana Sunday. Argentina has not allowed a goal in more than 370 minutes of play and have allowed fewer solid goal scoring chances in the knockout stages than Germany scored goals against Brazil. In their opening group stage game Germany completely trounced Portugal, albeit aided by a red card. In the match against Brazil, they may not have had an extra man but it sure looked that way. However, in the following match to the group stage drubbing, the Germans struggled with Ghana. The pace of the game seemed to stun them, the space Ghana found down the right wing caused problems, and offensively they resorted to more of a counter-attacking style than they normal do. As confident as Germany was heading into that match, they are riding even higher into this one.
The opening minutes of the match will be huge for both sides. Aside from the butterflies that come with playing in a World Cup final, the fact that each team will desperately want to take control of the match will leave both teams vulnerable to an early goal. Germany had massive amounts of success jumping all over Brazil in the center of the field, and while it eventually led to five goals in less than 30 minutes, there were a few breakdowns that had the Brazilians looking threatening before the first goal was ever scored. The Germans must find a way to create similar amounts of space against the much more compact Argentinian back line, otherwise it will turn into the exact style of match Argentina is looking for. If Germany can keep the high defensive line that suffocated the Brazilians, they can keep Messi in the midfield rather than allowing him to make his patented threatening forward runs. But if they are forced to drop back, the entire field will open up and it will take the Germans much longer to get forward and force them to play into the teeth of Argentina. Obviously, Germany will not score seven goals again, but if the pressing style works, they should grasp control of the match and have Argentina under siege. Unfortunately, it’s much easier said than done against the White and Sky Blue, and it’s much more likely the game will play into the strengths of Argentina. Pick: Outright Winner – Argentina (+145)
Total: One team has scored two goals in it’s three knockout stage games, while the other scored four in less than six minutes. Clearly, there appears to be a style contrast. However, this German attack has not been as dangerous as the previous outing so vehemently suggests. In the knockout stages they have scored only one other regular time goal and it came off a set piece. As mentioned above, an early goal is a possibility but if one does not come, the Argentine defense resembles something similar to a Chinese finger-trap where the harder their opponents push the harder they are to crack. However, there’s a major difference in this one than each of the previous games Argentina has played. Germany will not back down and will likely continue to send numbers forward until either they score or they concede. Argentina has not been particularly great on counter attack, but the space may open up as Philipp Lahm joins in on the attack. Lavezzi was the lone bright spot in the match with Holland, and his matchup in this game should allow him to shine again. Historically World Cup finals are played at higher scores than the rest of the knockout stage, but that trend was bucked four years ago when the lone goal was scored in the 118th minute, and the previous Argentina/Germany final ended 1-0. This game has all the makings of a low scoring game, but a confident German approach could open the field up much more than would otherwise be expected. The high possibility of an early goal, the best player in the world, a team that scored seven against the hosts, and clashing tactical approaches that should cause loads of space down one wing is simply too much to overlook. It should not shock anyone if this match heads to extra time scoreless, but it’s also possible it could be 2-2. In the final pick of the tournament, let’s go with the more enjoyable approach. Pick: Over 2 goals (-115)