And so, the 2014 World Cup has almost reached a conclusion. There are two matches left – one so meaningless that the very concept might as well be abolished, the other being the match that determines football bragging rights for another four years.
Dealing with the meaningless first, the third and fourth place play-off sees the Netherlands play the hosts Brazil. The Dutch have not scored a goal in four hours of knock out football, while Brazil, you might be aware, lost 7-1 to Germany in their semi final.The match itself is utterly pointless, largely being played out between two groups of squad players and involving sides who generally wonder why their flights home or back to Europe (as is the case for most of Brazil’s squad) have to be delayed for this nonsense.
As for the result, I have a funny feeling Brazil will win the bronze medal and restore the barest modicum of national pride. They will have Thiago Silva back, so sorely missed against the Germans, and have that pride to play for as they try to convince their public that $11bn and some stadiums that will hardly ever be used again was worth it to host a World Cup on home soil while their health and education systems go unnoticed.
The Dutch seem to have got their excuses in early, meanwhile, with Louis van Gaal stating that the game, as I propose above, should be abolished given its ultimate pointlessness. Last time the Netherlands played in this match in 1998 they lost to Croatia – I imagine the Dutch’s motivation has gone while Brazil still have some in hand despite their appalling play through the tournament.
To the main event then. This will be the third World Cup final to be contested between Germany and Argentina. The first, in 1986, was a five goal thriller; the second in 1990 needed a dodgy last minute penalty from Andreas Brehme to provide the game with a goal.
I have a feeling tomorrow’s game will err on the side of the latter, and that Germany will play in a similar manner to their fairly convincing 1-0 win over the French in the quarters to see them through. Germany’s midfield in particular is and has been excellent, with Philipp Lahm’s switch to full back and the consequent pairing up of Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger in defensive midfield making Germany simultaneously look more solid and more dangerous going forward. The Germans, as Chile and Costa Rica have shown in previous rounds, have and will in my view provide the ultimate demonstration that success in football is reliant on 11 players working together, not one chap who happens to appear on a FIFA box.
The Argentinians meanwhile, as ever, will have to rely on Lionel Messi to see them through. He is due a stellar performance, having been kept fairly quiet during the knock out rounds. If he does turn it on, as he can, in the final the Argentinians may have a chance.
Where things may fall apart for the Argentines is in defence. Germany showed their utter professionalism and ruthlessness in that win over Brazil, and Argentina’s defence proved to be fairly simple to penetrate during the group games – though they have kept three clean sheets in the knockouts. Regardless of that more recent record, I think Ezequiel Garay and Javier Mascherano will have to be at the absolute top of their games to keep their other less disciplined team mates in order and prevent the concession of a few goals. If they can’t, the Germans could find pickings as easy as they did against the chaps in sky blue and white in the 2010 quarter finals.
The last weekend then – and another four years to wait till next time. I really hope and wish that the final is a lot better than last time’s cynical foulfest. One point I had wondered about was if a new World Cup trophy would be commissioned on a Germany or Argentina win. However, and slightly boringly, FIFA’s website informs me that the current World Cup trophy cannot be won outright, as Brazil did with the Jules Rimet trophy (which was subsequently stolen and melted down) in 1970.