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7/12/2014 Team Germany vs Lionel Messi - The Hindu

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Today's Paper OPINION
Team Germany vs Lionel Messi
Whatever happens at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday (early Monday morning for the bleary-eyed in India),
history will have been made. Either the World Cup will have its first European champion on South American soil, or
world football will have a new king to place beside Pele, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane. Team Germany versus
Lionel Messi: the narrative writes itself, a rematch 24 years in the making. While it isnt without truth, it suffers from
a reduction in nuance. German football has evolved since 1990, when an Andreas Brehme penalty won the Cup.
Efficiency and collective play remain the substance, but there has been a refinement of style. Under Jurgen Klinsmann
and then Joachim Low, a new German generation has showcased skilful, tactically fluid football while continuing the
tradition of going deep in tournaments. But without a trophy, patience has begun to wear thin in Germany.
Argentina, on the other hand, appears not to have escaped the personality cult. It was Maradona in 1990 when he
nearly managed a repeat of 1986; its Messi now. Much as with Maradona, the oppositions extra-defensive attention
limits Messi, but it extracts a cost: the other team cant commit to attack without risking a match-turning moment of
Messi magic. It can only work, however, if the rest of Argentina privileges an individual for its greater good.
The finalists could not have taken more contrasting routes. Argentina has managed eight goals in six matches, often
leaving it very late; Germany nearly scored that number against Brazil, and has 17 in total. Argentina and the
Netherlands set out not to lose their semi-final, two cautious, disciplined sides cancelling each other out. Neither
could seize the initiative over 120 minutes. Germany and Brazil, in the other semifinal, went out to win, even if the
host did it with absurd recklessness, running into an open knife as a German writer described it. In a sense it was
surprising to see Brazil play thus. It had led the tournament in fouls, yellow cards, and tackles per game: this was a
pragmatic unit, which despite the gaps at the back was capable of churning out results. But without Neymar, its
creative force, and Thiago Silva, its leader and defensive organiser, the five-time champion crumbled. Despite
inflicting such a heavy defeat, Lows men can count on Brazils support in the final; not only has Germanys football
captivated the spiritual home of the game, Brazilians will rather see anyone win it but Argentina. Alejandro Sabella
has sought to lessen the pressure on his side by portraying Argentina as the underdog. But big finals know no
favourites. All one can hope for is a contest that a thoroughly enjoyable World Cup can be remembered by.