The World Cup final is set, as two of soccer's elite, Germany and Argentina, will 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 generally 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.
Germany is stacked with stars all over the field. People will try and tell you that they are like the San Antonio Spurs, and those people would be wrong. The sum of the Spurs is greater than the collection of their individual talents. The sum of Germany is equal to the collection of their individual talents. This isn't a scrappy, over achieving German team, this is a team loaded at every position, and unlike most other international teams, a good number of the German stars play on, or have played on, the same club team (Bayern Munich) giving Germany a continuity rarely seen on the international stage. The Germans are cold blooded and turn opponents' mistakes into goals. Germany's only trouble in this World Cup has come against teams that sit back and defend. I expect to see Argentina to use this strategy on Sunday.
Key German Players:
Thomas Mueller: Mueller is the second leading scorer in this World Cup with five goals. He is only one goal behind the leading scorer James (don't call me James) Rodriguez of Columbia. Unlike most goal scorers, Mueller has also run farther (a cool soccer stat) than any other player in the World Cup, logging 42 miles of running over the past 6 games. When Mueller isn't clinically finishing goals, or running around the field, he enjoys aggravating his opponents. I would compare Mueller to Indiana legend Reggie Miller. Mueller is constantly in motion, looking for the slightest gap in a defense to strike. He is also the player on Germany most likely to be choked by an opponent. PePe of Portugal head butted him in Germany's first game, and David Luis of Brazil took a big kick at him and missed. Mueller is a fiery player with a flare for the flop only rivaled by the Spanish and Portuguese. Expect he and Argentina's Martin Demichelis to be in several disputes during the game.
Where can I find this annoying German?
He's usually in the offensive third of the field somewhere. He is constantly in motion, and attacks from either wing, or the inside channels, depending on where Germany's precision passing game moves him. He is excellent in the air, and is usually in the middle of every German corner kick. As mentioned above, you can often find Mueller flying through the air at the slightest touch, arms and legs wind milling and face contorted in guttural agony, while at the same time looking at the referee hoping for a call. Some call it crafty, some call it cheating, some call it the reason soccer can be unbearable to watch at times, but there is no doubt, Mueller is a master of on field theatrics.
Schweinsteiger is the straw the stirs Germany's drink. He sits back in his defensive midfield role and gets Germany's attack moving with perfectly placed outlet passes. He also crunches any player that comes across his path. If there is an Argentinian legitimately writhing on the ground (I'm talking, legit, torn anus writhing) Schweinsteiger won't be far away. He is going to be tasked with keeping tabs on Lionel Messi, and preventing Messi from getting free runs at Germany's suspect left back, Benedikt Howedes. If Messi does get loose, expect Schweinsteiger to chop him down. How the referee wields his yellow cards will be an important factor in the game, because if Schweinsteiger picks up an early yellow, it's very possible that he will pick up a second. He has a history of running hot, and making reckless challenges. If Mueller is the player most likely to be assaulted by an Argentinian player, Schweinsteiger is a close second, as he was actually assaulted by an Argentinian player (Maxi Rodriguez) after the last Germany vs Argentina World Cup match.
Where can I find this annoying German?
Schweinsteiger plays in front of the German back four, and behind the German attacking line. Sometimes Sami Khedira joins him in that role, and sometimes he goes it alone. Against Argentina look for him to be on full Messi alert. He will sacrifice his offense to help shut down the best player of this soccer generation. If you're looking for Schweinsteiger look for Messi, they won't be far apart.
Other Notable Players:
Miroslav Klose: Did I mention Germany has the all time leading scorer in World Cup history on their squad? Klose is the Chris Carter of international soccer, all he does is score goals. Look for him in the penalty area trying to bang home crosses.
Mesut Ozil: Ozil is supposed to be the midfield maestro of Germany. He has been one of the few disappointments of the German campaign, as he has struggled to play up to his own high standards. He has one more game to show why he is considered one of the best playmakers in the world. I look for him to show up against Argentina.
Philipp Lahm: Lahm is the unassuming captain of Germany. He started the tournament playing Schweinsteiger's midfield role before moving back to his more familiar right back position. Lahm is always in the right spot at the right time, and has a penchant for scoring highlight reel goals in opportune moments. You don't notice Philipp Lahm until he is scoring a game winning goal or making a goal saving tackle.
Manuel Neuer: Simply put, Neuer is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He allows Germany to play a high, pressing back line because he is excellent with his feet, and will come out of the box and sweep up long balls. The 6'4 German towers over attackers in the box for crosses, and is equally adept as a shot stopper. It's going to take something special from Argentina to slide a goal past Neuer.
What to expect from Germany:
I expect Germany to come out and dominate the game early. Argentina is going to sit back and defend like France and Algeria attempted to do earlier in the World Cup. Germany is going to try and break down Argentina with crosses into the box for Mueller and Klose. Toni Kroos, one of the best players in the world, who I failed to mention, can drop a pass on a dime from 50 yards. If Germany scores an early goal and forces Argentina to come out and play with them, this game will be over before half time. If Argentina can hold out and get to the second half 0-0, they have a shot to pull the upset with a moment of Messi magic.
Germany 2 Argentina 1
Germany will go up 2 - 0 in the first half, and Argentina and Messi will pull one back in the second half, making the game interesting. In the end, Germany simply has too much fire power for Argentina.