FIFA World Cup

Grading the World Cup Final XIs Head-to-Head

Mark JonesFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2014

Grading the World Cup Final XIs Head-to-Head

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    The eyes of the world will be on the Maracana on Sunday as Germany and Argentina battle it out for what is surely the biggest prize in world sport.

    Immortality awaits the players of both sides, but which country has the strongest starting XI?

    Taking the line-ups from the pair's very different semi-final victories, and considering each player's form in the 2014 finals and their importance to their team, we try to work out who will have the advantage for what promises to be a compelling contest.

Manuel Neuer vs. Sergio Romero

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    Amongst some stiff competition, Germany's Manuel Neuer has probably been the best goalkeeper at this World Cup.

    His penalty-area presence appears to put attackers off, and he's developed a knack of racing out of that area to try to mop up errors from his defenders, doing so successfully more often than not.

    His opponent, Sergio Romero, had his best moment of the World Cup when he saved penalties from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder in the semi-final penalty shootout victory, but he can only dream of reaching Neuer's level currently. Advantage Germany.

     

    Rating out of 10: Neuer 9 - Romero 7

    Running Score: Germany 1 - Argentina 0

Philipp Lahm vs. Pablo Zabaleta

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    Having been stationed in the centre of midfield in Germany's group stage matches, Philipp Lahm moved to his more natural position of right-back for the second half of his side's second-round match against Algeria. A dramatic improvement in his side followed. 

    Lahm was excellent as Germany memorably hammered Brazil in the semi-final, and he'll now have his heart set on becoming the first German captain to lift the World Cup since Lothar Matthaus in 1990.

    Argentina right-back Pablo Zabaleta is no slouch, though. The reliable Manchester City performer has played in every minute of his side's campaign, and there is little doubt he will do another solid job for his side in the final. Is he as good as Lahm, though? It's doubtful any full-back is.

     

    Rating: Lahm 9 - Zabaleta 8

    Running Score: Germany 2 - Argentina 0

Benedikt Howedes vs. Marcos Rojo

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    Schalke's Benedikt Howedes has performed admirably for Germany at left-back during this tournament, but he is really more recognised as a centre-back.

    Argentina might look to exploit that at the Maracana, where they'll be lining up with Marcos Rojo in their left-back position.

    The 24-year-old Sporting Lisbon defender can also play in the centre, but he's been impressive on the left during his time in Brazil, where he scored in the group game against Nigeria. It's a close one, but he just edges it.

     

    Rating: Howedes 6 - Rojo 7

    Running Score: Germany 2 - Argentina 1

Mats Hummels vs. Martin Demichelis

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    Mats Hummels has scored two goals at this tournament, and the Germans will be looking to make the most of his threat from set-pieces.

    The defender has demonstrated that whilst he might not be the best at anticipating danger in his own penalty area, he is very good at recovering and making last-ditch interceptions and challenges to thwart his opponents.

    He utilises strong pace to perform these actions, something that is missing from the game of Argentina's Martin Demichelis, who has forced his way into the team during the knockout stages. Demichelis has performed well, but he isn't as impressive as Hummels.

     

    Rating: Hummels 8 - Demichelis 6

    Running Score: Germany 3 - Argentina 1

Jerome Boateng vs. Ezequiel Garay

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    Jerome Boateng has had a quietly impressive tournament at the heart of the Germany defence, often just doing his job and allowing partner Hummels to grab the headlines.

    He has certainly been key to the Germans reaching the final, and the same can definitely be said of Ezequiel Garay for Argentina.

    The new Zenit St. Petersburg man has been the leader and inspiration for Argentina at the back, often making vital blocks and interceptions. He showed bottle to take a penalty in the shootout win over the Netherlands too.

     

    Rating: Boateng 7 - Garay 8

    Running Score: Germany 3 - Argentina 2

Bastian Schweinsteiger vs. Javier Mascherano

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    Bastian Schweinsteiger has been excellent in the Germany midfield as he adopts a somewhat deeper role, dovetailing with Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira in a bid to cover as much ground as he possibly can.

    A player he'll be seeing a lot of on Sunday is Argentina's Javier Mascherano, who has had a terrific tournament and stamped his authority on plenty of matches.

    He was again excellent against the Dutch in the semi-final, and when he's in this mood, there are very few defensive midfielders in the world who can match him.

     

    Rating: Schweinsteiger 8 - Mascherano 9

    Running Score: Germany 3 - Argentina 3

Sami Khedira vs. Lucas Biglia

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    The battle of the two No. 6s is only really going one way, especially with memories of Sami Khedira's performance in the remarkable victory over Brazil still fresh in many minds.

    The Real Madrid midfielder scored a goal and worked tirelessly to drive his team forward from midfield, pinning Brazil back and maintaining the relentless nature of Germany's play and their pursuit of more goals.

    It was arguably the best midfield performance of the competition, and whilst Lucas Biglia has done a decent job for Argentina since coming into the team for Fernando Gago, that isn't something he could replicate.

     

    Rating: Khedira 9 - Biglia 6

    Running Score: Germany 4 - Argentina 3

Toni Kroos vs. Enzo Perez

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    This one seems to be another midfield mismatch, and it underlines just how vital it is that Mascherano impresses in the Maracana on Sunday.

    Toni Kroos was excellent against Brazil, scoring two goals and joining Khedira in looking to run beyond Mirsolav Klose's aging legs as much as possible.

    He'll again try to do the same Sunday, when the admirable, if limited, Enzo Perez could again start for Argentina in the absence of the injured Angel Di Maria. Perez will do his best, but Kroos certainly gives his side the advantage.

     

    Rating: Kroos 9 - Perez 6

    Running Score: Germany 5 - Argentina 3

Thomas Mueller vs. Ezequiel Lavezzi

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    Once again, Thomas Mueller has found that he is at home at a World Cup.

    The German now has a remarkable 10 goals over two competitions at just 24 years old, and he looks primed to break the all-time scoring record set by his teammate Klose.

    He'll once again be a huge threat coming in from the right-hand side to take up dangerous positions, and you'd have to suggest that he is more of a scoring chance for his side than Ezequiel Lavezzi is for Argentina, despite the hard-working nature of the Paris Saint-Germain forward.

     

    Rating: Mueller 9 - Lavezzi 7

    Running Score: Germany 6 - Argentina 3

Miroslav Klose vs. Gonzalo Higuain

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    He may be the World Cup's all-time record scorer, but as he enters what is surely his final ever game in the competition, Miroslav Klose is a 36-year-old forward who might have challenges going up against Demichelis and Garay.

    Gonzalo Higuain hasn't had the greatest tournament, scoring only once in the quarter-final victory over Belgium, but he will offer greater mobility and more of an all-round game to bring others into play.

    In a match which looks like being settled by just what happens behind the forwards, his impact could just be crucial.

     

    Rating: Klose 7 - Higuain 8

    Score: Germany 6 - Argentina 4

Mesut Ozil vs. Lionel Messi

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    Mesut Ozil hasn't quite been able to show just what he can do during this World Cup for Germany, with other, harder-working midfielders taking the limelight.

    You could say that Lionel Messi hasn't been at his best either, but he remains his team's inspiration and their go-to man.

    There will be a sense of destiny awaiting him in the Maracana on Sunday, when he could follow in the footsteps of the great Diego Maradona and lift the World Cup as Argentina's inspirational captain. All eyes will be on him, and as the best player on the pitch, you get the sense that the outcome could depend on just what he does.

     

    Rating: Ozil 8 - Messi 10

    Running Score: Germany 6 - Argentina 6 (two points for Messi's perfect 10)

Conclusion

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    Call it sitting on the fence if you want, but the presence of Messi in the Argentina attack ensures the South Americans have managed to match up to Germany's impressive midfield pretty well, meaning the match is hugely difficult to call.

    If Germany turn on the style in the manner they did against Brazil, then you get the impression there won't be anything Argentina can do to stop them, but the same can be said of Messi if he hits top gear and helps inspire those around him.

    These two countries met in the World Cup finals of 1986 and 1990, when only one goal separated them in each encounter, Argentina winning 3-2 in 1986 and Germany gaining revenge 1-0 four years later. We are extremely likely to see another tight contest Sunday—one that we might need extra time and penalties to produce a winner from. 

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