Saving the best for last

KENNY LAURIE @kennylaurie
Published 11.07.2014 01:13
Saving the best for last

The World Cup has the final it deserves. Will Messi cement his legacy or does Germany have another huge performance left in them?

A rollicking historic 7-1 thrashing of the host nation, leading to a period of national mourning provoking the kind of identity crisis usually reserved for spotty teenagers, was followed by a game between Argentina and Holland that can be, at best, described as one for the purist. Germany's emphatic win would seemingly have them pegged as favorites for the final, after all it's not every day you beat a five-time champion by six goals in their own backyard. Their win was a showcase of fluid football, clinical finishing and a master class in punishing a defense that was as watertight as a paper hat. Playing mostly without a recognized striker - Miroslav Klose being the only traditional striker in the squad - Germany have romped their way to the final with a squad young enough to dominate for the next decade. We know what this team is about.

Of their final opponents Argentina, it's harder to draw conclusions. They are already at a disadvantage having played one day after Germany, a problem exacerbated by 30 minutes of grueling extra time that will have taken a mental and physical toll. Their star striker Lionel Messi was also, by his all-time standards, peripheral, not surprising considering the attention the Dutch paid to him as well as playing less than 24 hours after the death of a friend in a tragic accident.Argentina have yet to really come out of first gear, opening the question of whether they have saved their best for last or whether they have another gear at all.

Only a fool would bet against Messi having a significant say in the outcome of Sunday's final. Argentina have covered the gamut in this World Cup, periodically looking shambolic and exhilarating going forward while their defense has gone from stout to leaky and back again a number of times during the tournament.

Their mental steel, however, in winning Wednesday's penalty shootout would seem an important factor, although Holland have only ever won one penalty shootout at the World Cup and that was in the previous round to relative minnows Costa Rica.

Personally, I backed Argentina to win before the tournament so it would be remiss to back out of that prediction now, but the Germans are looking irresistible. There are plenty of old clichés that lead one to think Germany will come out on top. The oft-quoted Gary Lineker line that "Football is a game played over 90 minutes, and then Germany win" would seem apt after pulling off perhaps the greatest and most astonishing performance in World Cup history. The famed German mentality also comes into play.

Before venturing into the foolish undertaking of trying to predict a football match, one is usually tempted to weigh up the psychological factors. Will Messi have it in him to rise to the occasion? Will Argentina be mentally fatigued after Wednesday night's slugfest?

With Germany, those rules go out of the window. There have never been any question marks over whether Germany have the mental fortitude to take on a challenge. This group of young players may not resemble their more robotic predecessors of World Cup's past but they carry the same iron will and facility to be undeterred by the strengths of the opposition. You will see a statue of Angela Merkel in Rio before you see Germany walk out onto a football pitch looking cowed and intimidated.

The notion has passed through my mind is that perhaps Germany's inflated score line on Tuesday night - and it was inflated, great though they were, Brazil played were as cohesive as a pack of street cats - would cause them to be overconfident going into the final. Then I remembered it was Germany I was thinking about and quickly retracted the thought.

What we do know about the final is that it is an apt end to a thoroughly exhilarating tournament that has entertained since the moment Marcelo put the ball past his own goalkeeper in the opening game. Germany have been a joy to watch and will likely play with the same verve and cavalier attacking in the final. This group scarcely knows any other way. Argentina have had their moments and their place in the final gives Messi the chance to finally rise above Diego Maradona once and for all, and silence the fools that believe a World Cup win alone defines the legacy of a player. A match-winning performance from Messi would surely, in the minds of many, vault him above every player that has gone before him.

An early goal would set the stage for a pulsating World Cup final, something that would stand in stark contrast to the nervy attritional nature of every final since 1998. This World Cup deserves as much.

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