The World Cup final is set, as two of soccer's elite, Germany and Argentina, face off on Sunday for global soccer domination. For some of us, this month has provided an endless number of excuses to leave work early, or, at least, clandestinely stream soccer matches on the company dime. The more responsible of us have attempted full media black outs in hopes of watching recorded games after work. However, for some of us, this month has provided a month of flipping channels trying to find something (anything) that resembles a sport we enjoy. Sure, you may have gone to the bar in your red-white-and-blue shirt for the U.S. games, but you tried to watch the baseball game on the 19 inch screen tucked away in the corner, only pretending to care when other people around you started yelling.
This preview is for those of you who still consider a sport with grown men running around in short shorts, gelled hair, and neon shoes for 90 minutes something less than your idea of scintillating entertainment. If you do find yourself stuck watching soccer on Sunday, you should at least have a vague notion of what’s going on.
Argentina is a team built around 1 transcendent player in Lionel Messi and one very good player in Javier Mascerano. Think of them like one of the early Jordan led Chicago Bulls team, with Jordan (Messi), Pippen (Mascerano) and a bunch of complimentary parts of solid, but not spectacular players. Argentina was one of the oldest teams starting the tournament, and they have ridden their experience and guile to a spot in the finals. Argentina is an unspectacular, workman like team with one spectacular player who can change a game with a 5 second burst of brilliance. Essentially, you get 89 minutes of boring and 1 minute of the sublime if everything goes according to Argentina’s plan.
Key Argentina Players:
Lionel Messi: As I mentioned before, Messi is the Michael Jordan of soccer (or maybe the Lebron of soccer), except, Messi really isn’t physically intimidating at all. If you stood next to Messi in line at McDonalds you would have no idea you were standing next to one of the most famous athletes in the world. Messi is only 5’7, and he only made it to 5’7 because Barcelona paid for growth hormone treatments when he was younger. Maybe a more apt comparison for Messi would be a better version of Allen Iverson because Messi can dominate a game as the smallest player on the field. When Messi gets into space, he kills defenders. Watching a center back try and stop Messi is a lot like watching a defensive tackle try and take down Barry Sanders in the open field. The ball seems to be magnetically attracted to Messi’s feet and is under his complete control at all times. What makes Messi truly great is his ability to not only create chances, but also put them in the back of the net, kind of like a soccer version of Wayne Gretzky. So, in summary, Lionel Messi is soccer’s Michael Jordan famous, Allen Iverson sized, Barry Sanders quick, Wayne Gretzky skilled, superstar.
Where can I find the Messi character on the field?
Messi has free reign of the field. He goes where he wants and does what he wants and no one on Argentina complains. Look for him drift outside to either wing when Argentina has possession of the ball, and look for the ball to find him more often than not. He will take all of Argentina’s free kicks in the offensive third of the field, and will generally look to score. Against Germany, if you are looking for Messi and can’t find him, check on the ground, because like most superstar soccer players, Messi spends a fair amount of time rolling around and grabbing his shins.
Mascerano is Messi’s Scottie Pippen both for club (Barcelona) and country. Mascerano does much of the heavy lifting that allows Messi to be a superstar. The first thing you need to know about Mascerano is that he is tough…really tough. Against Holland he was relieved of his senses during a clash of heads. After staggering around like a punch-drunk boxer for a few minutes, Mascerano cleared the cobwebs and proceeded to be Argentina’s best player for the rest of the game. If playing through a probable concussion wasn’t enough to prove Mascerano’s toughness, while sliding to block the shot of Dutch superstar Robben, Mascerano ripped his anus. This is what Mascerano had to say about his game saving tackle:
"I tore the anus.... I don't want to sound crude... Robben gave me an opportunity when he took a touch; he lost a second and I won. What I did anyone could have done. To be in the final you need a bit of luck."
I’m not even sure what exactly a "torn anus" entails, but the fact that Mascerano continued to play with a torn anus puts him on a Chris Kramer vs Michigan level of toughness in my book.
Where can I find the man with the torn anus?
Look for a crunching tackle, and that’s where you’re going to find Mascerano. He enjoys lighting opponents up, and will undoubtedly take a bite out of Germany’s star forward Thomas Mueller at some point during the game. Mascerano generally plays directly in front of Argentina’s back line as a defensive midfielder, cleaning up the ball before it has a chance to penetrate the Argentinian defense. While he is a ferocious defender, Mascerano is also skilled passer, and will constantly be looking to pump balls into Messi.
Other Notable Players:
Sergio Romero (GK): Romero has long been considered a weak link for Argentina. He barely plays for his club team Monaco, but has been consistent enough in the World Cup to get Argentina to the finals.
Pablo Zabaleta: Zabaleta is Argentina’s best defender, and like Mascerano, is a tough dude. He took a giant chunk out of his own cheek against Holland from a clash of heads, and played the rest of the game with a piece of gauze hanging out of his mouth.
Martin Demichelis: Demichelis is mostly know for being married to smoking hot, and somewhat crazy model Evangelina Anderson (WARNING: DO NOT GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH EVANGELINA ANDERSON AT WORK! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!). In soccer he is known as an enforcer with a penchant for being kicked out of games.
Gonzalo Higuain: Higuain has a reputation of a goal poacher in the box. He is adept at scoring goals, and not much else, but since scoring goals is important, he usually finds a place on the team. He has been struggling as of late, and would be on the bench if Sergio Aguero weren’t constantly injured. Higuain came within an inch of beating Holland in regulation with a sliding effort on goal that went just wide of the post.
Angel Di Maria: Di Maria might be Argentina’s second best offensive player, but he might not see the field against Germany. The rangy wing player pulled a thigh muscle in Argentina’s quarterfinal victory against Switzerland, and sat against Holland. He is rushing to get back on the field for the final, but won’t be 100% even if he does make it back. If you seem him, it will be as a last minute offensive sub.
Sergio Aguero: If Di Maria isn’t Argentina’s second best offensive player, then it is Sergio Aguero. Unfortunately, like Di Maria, Aguero is nursing a thigh injury, and if his performance as a sub against Holland is any indication, he is far from 100%. If you see Aguero, it will be as a last minute offensive sub.
What to expect from Argentina:
Argentina is going to sit back and defend against Germany, and hope for a moment (or moments) of brilliance from Messi on the counter attack. They just don’t have enough skill in the midfield and up top (especially with Di Maria and Aguero injured) to play an open game with Germany. If Argentina wins this game they will either do it on penalties, or with a 1-0 score. I can’t see them scoring more than once against the Germans.