When Germany take on Argentina in the 2014 FIFA World Cup final, they will be the pick of many of the experts to lift the trophy. Pundits such as BBC presenter Gary Lineker believe that the Argentines simply don't have enough sparkle to seriously test the rampant Germans.
That's partly understandable considering the contrasting styles of the two nations en route to this final. Germany have been a joy to watch, playing a high-intensity brand of quick-paced, creative and technically-assured attacking football.
The Germans have scored 10 goals in knockout matches at this tournament. Included in their exploits is the 7-1 battering of host nation Brazil in the semi-final.
Meanwhile, Argentina have toiled through the tournament, despite boasting an enviable contingent of forward talent. But while attackers such as Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have struggled to shine, the Argentina defence has been excellent.
Centre-backs Martin Demichelis and Ezequiel Garay have received superb support from uncompromising midfield anchorman Javier Mascherano. The Argentines have not conceded a single goal during the tournament's knockout phase.
Here's some of the key team news before the game, focusing on two major fitness doubts.
Argentina certainly enters this final with more pressing concerns on the injury front. Central to those concerns is the fitness of mercurial schemer Angel Di Maria.
Unfortunately, the latest news is not good, according to Konstantinos Lianos of The Independent: "Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella saw Real Madrid player Angel Di Maria return to light training but remains extremely doubtful to start after suffering from a thigh injury."
Di Maria will be a big miss. His creative intent and guile gives what has been a workmanlike squad an extra dimension. Thankfully for Argentina, Lianos has provided good news about the rest of the team:
However, Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero has completely recovered and could start instead of Ezequiel Lavezzi or even Gonzalo Higuain. Left-back Marcos Rojo is dealing with a sore ankle that would not allow him to complete training on Friday but he is nevertheless considered fit enough for the final.
Aguero's presence could prove vital. With Germany likely to focus on Messi, Aguero's trickery, pace and power could provide a decisive contribution.
It would be great to see coach Sabella be really bold and pick all three of Messi, Aguero and Higuain for the final.
But no matter who is deployed in attack for Argentina, Germany will feel better if Mats Hummels is available. The intelligent centre-back is afflicted with tendonitis.
However, there could be good news, as Lianos has stated Hummels is "expected to compete." That's a slightly ambiguous phrase, but German fans will hope it means Hummels can start ahead of Per Mertesacker, who could struggle with Argentina's pace and trickery.
Here are some of the latest expert predictions ahead of Sunday's final.
Gary Lineker, BBC: Germany
Former England striker and current voice of the BBC's football coverage, Gary Lineker, was left unimpressed with Argentina during their stale semi-final against the Netherlands:
Lineker's faith in the Germans is well-founded. He clearly believes their mix of efficiency, energy and flair will be too much for a sluggish but resilient Argentina squad.
In particular, Lineker has pinpointed what he feels has been lacklustre form from star man Lionel Messi. The pundit has also lamented the missing influence of pacy creator Di Maria, who was injured for the semi-final.
Lineker expressed these thoughts in his Blahzil video series for Goal Hanger Films:
Lineker's point about Di Maria is well-taken. The Real Madrid attacking midfielder plays with a natural flair and forward-thinking swagger many of his teammates simply don't possess.
Di Maria has that happy knack for exploiting space between defensive lines with clever, well-timed through passes. His blistering pace also provides a tremendous fear factor for opponents.
Without Di Maria, Messi in particular, has lacked support. He certainly was subdued during the semi-final:
However, it would be unfair to lament Messi for poor performances throughout this tournament. The truth is he has been a rare bright spark for his nation going forward.
Messi made telling contributions during the group stage. He scored against Bosnia and Herzegovina, then netted the winner against Iran. He followed those exploits by bagging a superb brace against Nigeria.
While the brilliance has been sporadic, Messi has still provided the odd thrilling moment, as BBC Sport South American football writer Tim Vickery noted: "The spotlight, of course, is on forward and captain Lionel Messi, the latter-day Maradona, who has provided the odd flash of left-footed genius along the way."
Lineker is not wrong to want and expect more from Messi, the world's best player. Perhaps he'll get his wish in the final.
Mark Lawrenson, BBC: Germany
Lineker isn't the only recognisable BBC pundit backing Germany to beat a faltering Argentina team. Commentator and ex-Liverpool centre-back Mark Lawrenson believes fatigue from the semi-finals will be a big factor, per BBC Sport:
I have to make Germany favourites straight away because Argentina played their semi-final a day later, and went through extra-time and penalties.
Germany, in contrast, only had to play for 30 minutes against Brazil, then just cruised through the rest of the game.
Lawrenson could have a point about the respective energy levels of both teams ahead of the final. Argentina's game against the Netherlands was a dire affair, but it was also certainly a bruising one.
Players such as Mascherano and Pablo Zabaleta took fairly hefty knocks. With Di Maria's fitness still also in doubt, Argentina are certainly the walking wounded leading up to their date with destiny at the Maracana Stadium.
By contrast, Germany have been among the nations least affected by injury woes at this tournament. While Hummels' health is a pressing concern, it is really the only one.
That means the Germans are still able to call on their full reserves of wonderful midfield talent. Argentina will have to contend with schemers Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil.
However, even if the Germans are physically stronger, don't underestimate the motivation Argentina have to win the trophy in Brazil. That's a massive lure for Sabella's players, one that could easily make them forget about aching bones.
Paul Hayward, The Telegraph: Argentina
Despite the inevitable hype surrounding Germany following their semi-final heroics, not everybody believes Argentina will be outmatched. One journalist endorsing the South Americans' chances is Paul Hayward of The Telegraph.
The paper's chief sports writer believes Sabella's team will focus more on stifling Germany's possession game and containing midfield runners. Rather than attempting to match the Germans for flair, Hayward believes stubborn resilience can win Argentina the trophy.
Hayward's argument is a reasonable one, particularly based on how Argentina have so far navigated the competition's knockout phase. They have been a model of defensive solidity, and in Mascherano, have a player who can track and frustrate Germany's playmakers.
Of course, Mascherano won't be able to do that all by himself. Kroos and company will soon find a way to play around the FC Barcelona destroyer if he's left isolated.
But Sabella can support Mascherano with either Lucas Biglia or Fernando Gago. The former started the semi-final and shares a similar inclination to break up play.
While Hayward isn't directly picking a winner, his prediction for how the game will be played has more than a ring of truth to it. He has identified Argentina's best hope of winning.
Jamie Redknapp, Sky Sports: Argentina
For a more direct endorsement of Argentina, consider the words of Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp. He is backing Argentina to outlast Germany in another narrow and intense encounter:
I have gone with Argentina all the way through, although I’m not feeling that confident. I think it will be a really tight game and I’m actually going for a 1-1 draw in 90 minutes and it might be decided by a bit of genius if it’s to be a win for either side. But it’s a World Cup Final and teams are not going to want to lose – and the fact both could start with the same XI shows you this could come down to fatigue. If it goes to extra-time, I could see Argentina saying ‘let’s get this to penalties’. I’m saying 1-1 at full-time and Argentina to win on penalties.
Redknapp's reservations about his pick are founded on the belief that Argentina's physical midfield won't be able to cope with the skill and speed of thought Germany offer in the same area.
However, an overly rugged approach often succeeds in stifling teams. While it's not in the spirit of the beautiful game, Germany will have to prove they can withstand a physical onslaught from Mascherano and company.
This final is sure to be cagey for long periods. Such stark clashes of defence vs. attack usually are. However, for all of Germany's forward-thinking verve, don't discount Argentina's Messi-led attack from making the ultimate difference.
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