10 Storylines to Watch Out for in 2014 World Cup Final
Sunday evening's much-anticipated 2014 FIFA World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in Rio de Janeiro's legendary Estadio Maracana presents a number of intriguing storylines.
As the climax to this summer's tournament in Brazil finally draws near, make sure you keep a close eye out for these 10 fascinating subplots.
Make Mine a Double
Germany and Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira was a huge doubt for this summer's World Cup after tearing the anterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee while playing in a friendly international against Italy last November.
However, not only did Khedira recover in time to start for Los Blancos in May's UEFA Champions League final victory over city rivals Atletico Madrid, but the 27-year-old has also since gone on to star for his country in their run all the way to Sunday's showdown against Argentina.
Now the German has a chance to become only the third player to win football's two biggest trophies in the same year since the European Cup became the Champions League in 1992, per Joe Bernstein of the Daily Mail. Khedira would join Christian Karembeu (Real Madrid and France in 1998) and Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid and Brazil in 2002) in the exclusive group.
Argentina Hoping for Some Angel Delight in Rio
Argentina's medical team have been working round the clock of late to try to ensure key man Angel Di Maria can play against Germany on Sunday.
The Real Madrid winger suffered a thigh injury while attempting a shot on goal during his country's 1-0 win over Belgium in the last eight, ruling him out of Argentina's semi-final win over Netherlands.
However, the 26-year-old has since returned to training at Argentina's Belo Horizonte base, though it was only a light workout away from the rest of the squad. Per John Drayton of the Daily Mail, team doctors hope the use of both platelet-rich plasma and an oxygen chamber may speed up the player's recovery in time to at least take some part from the substitutes' bench in this weekend's showdown in Rio de Janeiro.
And so there will be huge interest when the team sheets are announced Sunday to see if all the skilful wide man's hard work has paid off. Di Maria's pace on the flanks is seen by many as one of Argentina's best ways to hurt their opponents, especially given Germany's tendency to defend with a high line.
His presence would clearly enhance Argentina's chances and give Di Maria the opportunity to win the aforementioned historic double rather than Real team-mate Khedira.
Equally, however, as we saw with Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa in May's UEFA Champions League final, it is always a huge risk to go into showpiece occasions such as these relying on half-fit players.
Will Someone End Up Paying the Ultimate Penalty at the Maracana?
These two sides have already famously met twice before in the final of the World Cup, back in 1986 and 1990, while they also clashed in the knockout rounds at both the 2006 and 2010 tournaments.
In the 2006 head-to-head in Germany—in which seven players who featured for both teams may also play some part Sunday—it was the host nation who ended up prevailing 4-2 on penalties (see video above). That could give Joachim Low's men a slight advantage were Sunday night's showdown to once again be decided by the dreaded spot-kicks.
And do not be at all surprised either to see Die Mannschaft's No. 1 Manuel Neuer step up and take a penalty in the shootout, just as the Bayern Munich goalkeeper successfully did in the 2012 UEFA Champions League final against Chelsea.
Can Argentina's 'Sore, Beaten, Tired' Players Raise Themselves for Last Hurrah?
If Germany are to create history Sunday by becoming the first European nation to win the World Cup on South American soil, then you suspect that their greater freshness and energy going into the final compared to Argentina will have a huge part to play at the Maracana.
Whereas Low's men were able to completely take their foot off the gas in the second half of their semi-final against hosts Brazil on Tuesday, Argentina were made to expend every last ounce of sweat before edging past Netherlands on penalties 24 hours later.
In fact, La Albiceleste coach Alejandro Sabella has already been quick to stress the disadvantage he believes his players—"sore, beaten, tired as a result of a war"—are at heading into this weekend's final:
Germany are always a very difficult hurdle to overcome, and even more so when they've had the extra day and, indeed, could rein themselves in for the second half last night. We've had to expend every drop of energy just to play in the World Cup final. So that is an advantage for them. In 1998 Argentina beat England in extra-time and lost against Holland in the heat of Marseille in the next match, and it harmed us. We have to recover and work to make sure we are ready.
And with Argentina skipper Lionel Messi currently feeling "as if his legs weigh 100 kilos each," as the player's father Jorge told Brazilian paper Folha de S.Paulo (h/t the The Daily Telegraph), the longer the match lasts Sunday, the less chance Sabella and Co. may have of victory.
Mueller's 2nd Golden Ball
Germany forward Thomas Mueller has the opportunity to write his name into World Cup history in Sunday night's final against Argentina by becoming the first player to win the Golden Boot on more than one occasion.
The 24-year-old Bayern Munich star needs just one more strike at the Estadio Maracana this weekend to draw level with Colombia's James Rodriguez on six goals at the top of the scoring charts.
If that were to happen, Mueller would once again claim the award by virtue of having created one more goal (three) than the AS Monaco attacking midfielder (two) in this summer's competition. It's a scenario that incidentally saw the player win the trophy in South Africa four years ago after he also finished level with David Villa, Wesley Sneijder and Diego Forlan.
Michelle Kaufman of the Miami Herald wrote of Mueller:
Mueller scored a hat trick in a 4-0 rout of Portugal in the opener and has had an outstanding tournament. It isn’t just the number of goals he scores that makes him an extraordinary player, it’s the way he plays the game. He is known for his pace, composure, technique, but most of all for knowing exactly where to find space even when it isn’t apparent to anyone else.
Brazil Supporters Set to Be German Just for One Day
There's no doubting which team Brazilian fans will be cheering for in Rio de Janeiro come Sunday, as the prospect of their fiercest rivals winning the World Cup in their own mecca of football looms ever closer.
In case there were any doubts, the sound of the Selecao supporters "Ole-ing" every time Germany went on the attack against their side in Tuesday's semi-final in Belo Horizonte should make it absolutely clear.
Conversely for followers of Argentina, claiming what would be a third World Cup—and a first since beating Germany 28 years ago—in the backyard of their archenemies would in many ways better even their first-ever triumph in the tournament in front of their own fans in Buenos Aires in 1978.
Either way, we should be in store for a breathtaking atmosphere inside the 78,838–capacity Estadio Maracana on Sunday night.
Germany’s Captain Fantastic
Having made a huge decision to switch captain Philipp Lahm from sitting in front of the defence to right-back for Germany's quarter-final win over France last Friday, Joachim Low now faces another big call heading into the final against Argentina.
The tactic was deemed a success as Die Mannschaft returned to their normal assured selves by smothering the French attacking threat. They then destroyed host nation Brazil in Tuesday's semi-final, as the versatile Bayern Munich star once again reverted to his more familiar position on the right-hand side of the back four.
However, with Sunday's opponents featuring a certain playmaker by the name of Lionel Messi, will Low now adopt the same plan that the Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal did in his side's semi-final against Argentina on Wednesday, asking his skipper to man-mark the twinkle-toed attacker as Nigel de Jong did so successfully in Sao Paulo?
That would mean yet another shift in roles for Lahm at the Estadio Maracana this weekend, although if there is any player capable of taking on such a challenge, it is the experienced 30-year-old German.
Brazil 2014 Winners to Receive Replica FIFA World Cup Winners' Trophy
Whichever side emerges victorious come Sunday night will receive a replica of the World Cup from FIFA—but won't get to keep the actual trophy.
After Brazil won the original Jules Rimet Trophy for the third occasion in 1970, world football's ruling body allowed them to retain it and commissioned the current FIFA World Cup Trophy, adding that any country that won the competition three times would again keep it permanently.
Although Germany and Argentina have both won the World Cup twice since, FIFA has changed the rules so that the original always stays in their possession. Instead, each World Cup winner is handed a gold-plated replica—known as the FIFA World Cup Winners' Trophy—to commemorate their victory.
Coincidentally, the last of both these nations' two World Cup wins actually came against the other, with Germany getting the better of Argentina in the final in 1990, while La Albiceleste's most recent triumph in the tournament was over Die Mannschaft four years earlier.
Is Record-Breaking Striker Moving Klose to the World Cup Exit Door?
Surely Sunday night's final will be veteran Germany striker Miroslav Klose's 24th and last World Cup match for his country.
If that were to be the case, the 36-year-old will have one last chance to further add to his record-breaking number of goals in the tournament, which currently stands at a mind-boggling 16 after Klose scored Germany's second in their 7-1 destruction of Brazil.
However, the Lazio frontman has not entirely ruled out the possibility of prolonging his illustrious international career beyond his 137th cap at the Maracana. He told reporters Friday, "I don't know if I will retire after the game. Unfortunately I still feel fine and think I can move my corpse on for a little while."
Either way, Argentina need no prior warning as to Klose's threat to their own chances of victory this weekend, with the player having previously netted three times against them in the knockout rounds at both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
Greatness Awaits the Atomic Flea
For many, Sunday's mouthwatering contest at the Maracana is all about one man, as Argentina's captain Lionel Messi looks to cement his reputation as one of the greatest players the world has ever seen by guiding his country to glory over Germany.
Would it not be ironic that in one of the rare years in which the 27-year-old has not won the FIFA Ballon d'Or, Messi should finally go on to achieve the one thing so far missing in his trophy-laden career by getting his hands on the World Cup?
And back in the stadium where the little FC Barcelona magician began the tournament by scoring a brilliant individual goal—his first of four so far in Brazil—to help beat Bosnia and Herzegovina, can Messi now join Diego Maradona by captaining La Albiceleste to victory over Germany in a World Cup, just as his legendary compatriot did in Mexico City 28 years ago?
Or will the weight of having to emulate El Diego—not only did Messi fail to touch the ball in the penalty area throughout the entire 120 minutes of Wednesday's semi-final with Netherlands, but he has also covered the second-shortest distance (32.3 miles) of any player to play the majority of six games at Brazil 2014 according to FIFA.com—finally catch up with the Atomic Flea?