Soccer / Sports

World Cup final preview: How Germany and Argentina match up

Attacking: Unbeaten Germany has no shortage of attacking options, as it proved in its semifinal rout of Brazil when it got goals from five different players. In six games here Germany has 17 goals, with five players having scored multiple times. Andre Schurrle hasn't even started a game but he has three goals in 155 minutes, and Thomas Mueller, who led the 2010 World Cup in goals and assists, is second in scoring in this year's tournament with five goals. That makes Germany virtually impossible to defend since shutting down one player merely creates opportunities for two or three others.

Meanwhile, Argentina, which is also unbeaten, has the world's best player in Lionel Messi. But so far it's proven to have little else with Messi accounting for half of his team's eight goals. What's more, Argentina has just two goals combined in three knockout-round games; Germany scored twice as many in a six-minute span of the first half against Brazil. And if midfield motor Angel Di Maria, who missed Argentina's semifinal with a thigh injury, can't play in the final, Messi will be even more isolated.

Fun fact: The four strikers Messi has played alongside in Brazil -- Sergio Aguero, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gonzalo Higuain and Rodrigo Palacios--scored 83 goals between them at top clubs in Europe last season. They have combined for just one score at this World Cup. Edge: Germany.

Defending: This is an area of concern for Germany, especially if center back Mats Hummels is limited by a knee injury. The Germans have shifted personnel around all tournament--partly because illness swept through the team just after group play -- and that's left the midfield with some additional pressure to help out defensively. But the back line can take comfort knowing that behind them is Manuel Neuer, arguably the world's best keeper. He's allowed just four goals in this tournament, pitching three shutouts.

Argentine keeper Sergio Romero may be even hotter though. He hasn't allowed a goal in 373 minutes, stretching back to the group play finale. Romero also has an active back line to count on. Plus Argentina has been battled tested on defense in this World Cup. While Germany has twice won by four or more goals, every Argentina game has been decided by just one score.

The Argentines have changed philosophies in this World Cup, going from an attacking team to one with a more defensive posture that tries to score on counterattacks. And one way it will try to slow the Germans down is by keeping possession, a job that will rely heavily on the ability of Messi's Barcelona teammate, midfielder Javier Mascherano, who has had a marvelous tournament thus far. Edge: Argentina.

Bench: If the availability of Di Maria or Aguero is limited, that will weaken an Argentine bench that has been a source of strength in the knockout round. Then another question mark arose Friday when left back Marcos Rojo, who is dealing with a sore ankle, was held out of training. He's expected to play today. Germany's bench, meanwhile, is deep. Schurrle hasn't even started and his has three goals. And even Miroslav Klose, the leading scoring in World Cup history with 16 goals, has played off the bench here. Plus Argentina is exhausted after going to overtime in two of its last three games. Edge: Germany.

Coaching: Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella appears to have little respect among his players. Reports in the Spanish and Argentine media said the team's change in alignment -- from a 5-3-2 to a 4-3-3 -- at halftime of the opening game came at the insistence of Messi. Argentina has stayed in a 4-3-3 ever since. Sabella's in-game strategy and his use of substitutions have also left a lot to question, although injuries have limited his options in the latter.

Germany's Joachim Loew appears to have done just about everything right -- although he has a lot more weapons to choose from. His team generally seems to have bought into what he's doing. Even players with levitate claims to a starting berth haven't complained about playing off the bench. Germany hasn't won a World Cup final since 1990, when it beat Argentina; that's the longest title drought in its history. Argentina hasn't been to a World Cup final since that 1990 match. Yet Germany seems more driven by that history, knowing this is the first generation in its soccer history that hasn't won a major title. It will be motivated to rectify that today. Edge: Germany.

Prediction: Germany, 2-1

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