Sunday, July 13, 2014

World Cup Finals Recap: Germany - 1 Argentina - 0

Just over a month ago Germany tied Cameroon 2-2 in a World Cup tuneup. A few days before that, they found out that one of their star attackers - Marco Reus - was going to be injured for the entire World Cup. At that point, Germany looked nothing like finals contenders based on form, or, quite frankly, talent. They were a team with no attacking depth, no consistency in the midfield, and no positional awareness in the back (playing center backs at left and right back is a really, really, odd thing to do - especially when you have one of the best right backs in the world, Philipp Lahm, on the roster). So, how did a team with so many fundamental problems perform so dominantly on the biggest stage? Well... Lets find out.

Attacking depth was no problem, as fringe players like Andre Schurrle, Mario Goetze, and Miroslav Klose thrived as impact subs and in some cases surprise starters. If anything, they had too much attacking depth, as talented attackers like Lukas Podolski and Julian Draxler could hardly get a minute of game action.

Next, we visit the problem of inconsistency in the midfield, mainly concerning the two pivot-midfielders. In friendlies, we frequently saw Philipp Lahm and Sami Khedira in the pivot, with Toni Kroos sometimes stepping in to replace one of the two. However, we found ourselves frustratingly having to ask, "where is Bastian Schweinsteiger??" When the World Cup finally did come around, Schweinsteiger finally did find his spot in the team alongside Sami Khedira, while Philipp Lahm was moved to his more natural position of right back and Toni Kroos was moved back to a more attacking position, leaving us wondering why they hadn't gone with that setup all along.
The final problem was that of having four centerbacks along the back line as opposed to two centerbacks and two wing backs, creating a lack of pace and a lack of wide attacking options. The problem was easily fixed on the right hand side by having Philipp Lahm return to right back, while the left side was admirably controlled by Benedikt Howedes, but they will certainly be looking for a natural left back in years to come.

The result of these tactical maneuvers was a well oiled machine that honestly never looked like loosing against Argentina. In terms of chances, the teams were fairly even, but Argentina didn't quite seem like they were at the races today, and if it weren't for a couple of chances that the Germans accidentally gifted them, they would have looked sorely overmatched on the stat sheet and on the pitch. Argentina deserve credit, for they gave Germany an immense challenge, with stiff defense and the occasional run of possession on the counterattack (however, their finishing was woeful). Despite this loss, there is no doubt in my mind that Argentina was the second best team in this tournament and were more than deserving of their silver medal. The real loser of this game has to be Lionel Messi, who had the chance to push his credentials over the top but really struggled to have much of an impact on the game (as far as I'm concerned he wasn't even the best player on his own team, as Javer Mascherano narrowly outplayed him). The free kick which he skied over the bar with just seconds left seemed to be a manifestation of his frustrating performance.

In the end, though, all of the credit has to be given to this wonderful Germany team, who played a near-perfect tournament and finished it off with a near-perfect victory. Once again, the stars - Muller, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Klose, and Neuer - led the way, but it was the youngsters and the super subs - Schurrle, Goetze, Boateng, and Kroos - that put in the most critical performances today. Congrats to Germany, the well-oiled machine, and condolences to Argentina... Can't wait until 2018!

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