By Bryan Maag (@HalfBAM)
We have finally arrived at Maracana Stadium for the World Cup Final. Last year at this time, in the Confederation Cup Final, Gerard Pique received a red card tackling Neymar in the box. A red card that signified the weak mentality of the Spanish team. All of Brazil celebrated a young team they thought would bring back the glory of Cafu, Pele, Ronaldinho, and Ronaldo in the 2014 Cup. Unfortunately the squad Brazil picked for a month long tournament could not compete against the world's best. The crowd carried them as far as possible but their loss was inevitable. Neymar and Thiago Silva are two of the best players in the world and were not able to play in the semifinals. The Brazilian coach, Scolari, came out with a horrible game plan that left out Willian and Dani Alves. How do you leave out two of the most talented players on your team in the biggest match of the year?
But enough about the massacre, we need to talk about Mascherano. Masch was transformed from a defensive midfielder at Liverpool(EPL sucks in my humble opinion) to a center back at Barcelona and showed everything he has learned in the semifinal. Masch was knocked unconscious (American football player take note, if you ever have to go through a concussion test, you answer all questions "YES"). Masch came back in said game and had the defensive awareness to deny Arjen Robben in the 90th minute.
So, how did we get here?
Lets take a second to look at the how the Amazon took a toll on the tournament.
The Brazilians traveled twice as many miles as the Germans and Argentina traveled 1,800 miles less than the Netherlands. The Netherlands also played two extra time games in the past week totalling an extra 60 minutes played. (look at the US total! You can go to Pearl in London roundtrip with a discount for that expense.)
I have to say that all reports coming out of Brazilia are great for the Dutch, German and American sides. The three squads went out to the favelas and interacted with the impoverished people of Brazil. The Americans are probably lumped into this group due to having a German coach that is a bit of a humanitarian. It is worth taking note that the social compassionate countries from Europe have progressed the farthest. Indoctrinating yourself might not always be a bad thing.
Argentina: The Beginning
...There is not much more to say. The "little wizard from Rosario" turned me on to the beautiful game when I was lonely in Barcelona years ago. I did not ever think it would slowly turn into a passion of mine. But it has. He moved from Argentina to Spain at the ripe old age of twelve because nobody would pay for his hormone deficiency drugs. Barca picked up the tab and has won three euro championships on the back of the diminutive maestro. Messi had the option of joining the Spanish team in his youth and would have participated in their last Cup winning campaign. However, that wasn't to be. Instead, he denied the opportunity so he could wear La Albiceleste, the shirt of MARADONA.
If there is a pivot to this team it is Mascherano. It says something about Busquetes at the club level to knock Masch back to a center back role. This might change with Lucho taking over Barca this fall. Messi is the the figurehead of the team but Masch will continue to be the real captain. He is cut from the same clothe of a young Puyol. He made his Argentina debut prior to being a starter for his club team at River Platte.
I also want to mention the roles of Angel Di Maria and Kun Aguero. These two players are nursing muscle injuries and are real big question marks for today's game. It is going to be a big gamble placing either of these players in the starting lineup. Di Maria is a huge matchup problem for the defense because his stamina allows him to move all over the field. Aguero is a quick and lethal forward that is able to keep the defense honest. If Aguero is healthy, he will be able to open up space for Messi. The Argentinian defense was a large question mark coming into the tournament. The back four led by Mascherano have stood tall, and by shutting out the Dutch, they proved they are no pushovers. Other than Aguero and Di Maria, I do not see Argentina making any tactical changes.
The German team is looking extremely sexy at the moment. Everyone is young and talented. They are almost all from a Bayern Munich team that dismantled Barca 7-0 in the Champions League semis a year ago. I hate to admit it but the Germans took the Spanish model of youth development and improved upon it. The German squad could have made it to this position in the tournament with their bench players alone, that's how deep they are. The German attack is extremely versatile with many of the players able to play multiple positions. This allows the players to switch around in the attempt to lose their defensive cover.
Having so many quality players on the team can create a dilemma when picking the right starting group. So far the German starting lineup has remained relatively consistent. The only players that have been moved in and out are Sami Khedira in midfield and Miraslov Klose in attack. I believe Khedira will start the game in midfield due to his larger stature and familiarity with Lionel Messi from playing at Real Madrid. Klose will probably start the game on the bench and be subbed in later if they need some fresh offensive punch. Manuel Neuer has been a standout defensive player in the tournament. He is a hybrid goalkeeper and sweeper. Neuer’s flexibility allows the team to run a very high defensive line and is extremely talented at starting the counter attack.
Who to watch for (Beyond Messi)
Mezuit Ozil (Germany): Ozil is a fluid attacking midfielder that has finishing capabilities. I think he is going to be a nuisance to the Argentinian defense because of his pinpoint passing and long run capabilities. Ozil moves around the pitch very well and is very tough to track. He should have a good amount of space to work behind Tomas Mueller
Javier Mascherano (Argentina): Masch is the key to the Argentinian engine. He dictates the pace of play and is the linchpin of the defense. He is suffering from some nagging injuries and it will be interesting to see how he has recovered over the last few days. Mascherano should be able to work the ball from the back and feed the ball to Lionel Messi and Di Maria. Mascherano will have a lot of defensive duties and needs to remain diligent as the German attackers change positions.
I am going with Argentina. By a count of 2-1. I do not care about the players and skill, I just really want them to win. Gaucho Pride.