RIO DE JANEIRO -- Sunday's World Cup final probably will be Alejandro Sabella's last game as coach of the Argentine national team, his agent said last week. But Saturday, Sabella deflected questions about his future, saying he wanted to focus on the game against Germany.
"That's irrelevant now given the importance of the match," he said. "Absolutely irrelevant. I have not discussed anything with my family or anyone regarding my future."
A former national team midfielder, Sabella, 59, also played in England and coached Argentine club Estudiantes de La Plata to the Copa Libertadores title in 2009. Two years later he was named coach of the national team, going 26-4-10 and taking Argentina to its first World Cup final in 24 years.
And although Argentina has reached Sunday's final unbeaten, there have been reports of disagreements between Sabella and his players and feuds over game strategy with captain Lionel Messi and others.
Leader of the pack?
Messi is the Argentine player Germany will watch most closely in Sunday's final. But he's not necessarily the player Germany fears most.
Midfielder Javier Mascherano, like Messi a candidate for the tournament's MVP award, has done everything for Argentina, from tracking back on defense to leading the attack. And Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger says that makes him especially dangerous.
"Javier Mascherano is the leader of a pack of wolves," Schweinsteiger said. "You see what kind of attitude he has for his country. It will not be easy for us."
She gets no kick from penalty shots
Colombian pop star Shakira will be performing at her third World Cup when she takes part in Sunday's 18-minute closing ceremony at Rio de Janeiro's famed Maracana Stadium.
Four years ago, before the South African tournament, she was introduced to Spanish national team star Gerard Pique. The two struck up a romance and the couple had a son, Milan, 18 months ago.
"Soccer has changed my life in so many ways. And affected my life on so many different levels," she said Saturday. "In 2010 I met the love of my life. And if it wasn't for the World Cup my son Milan wouldn't be here today."
Having a boyfriend who has played in two World Cups -- winning the title in 2010 and being eliminated in group play this summer -- has also introduced Shakira to the pressures the players feel. So when she was asked for a prediction on Sunday's Germany-Argentina final, she refused to pick a winner, saying only that she was rooting against penalty kicks.
She also invoked the memory of Paul the Octopus, who correctly predicted many games in the 2010 World Cup from his tank in a German aquarium.
"I only pray to God that we don't go to penalty kicks," she said. "They're too cruel. Where's the octopus when we need him? We need an octopus. "
Soccer and social change
Grammy-award winning singer and activist Wyclef Jean, who made a quixotic bid for the presidency of his native Haiti in 2010, is also taking part in Sunday's closing ceremony. The enormous cost of this World Cup has been widely criticized by groups aligned with the poor in Brazil and Jean was asked how he could work with tournament organizers while remaining true to his activist leanings.
"Keep in mind that in two years the Olympics will be coming here, so in that we trust justice will be done," he said. "When it comes to how to reach the people in the favelas (slums), football is one of the very interesting means to do that."
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