Germany v Argentina, World Cup final
Sunday 8:00, BBC One and ITV1
Match Odds: Germany [2.38], Argentina [3.6], The Draw [3.3]
At one stage, World Cup 2014 seemed set to be dominated by shock results and overachieving minnows, but the final is a battle between two traditional superpowers. Germany and Argentina have five World Cups between them, and this will be their third final against one another, having also met in 1986 and 1990.
The obvious way to describe this battle is 'team versus individual' - Germany are a cohesive, resilient and well-structured unit who recorded a staggering 7-1 victory over hosts Brazil without a single individual dominating, while Argentina are based primarily around the skill, creativity and goalscoring prowess of Lionel Messi. It should be a fascinating tactical battle.
You can never entirely rule out surprise selection decisions, especially from Jogi Low, but neither coach has obvious dilemmas. Germany coach Jogi Low surely won't make any changes from the XI that defeated Brazil so convincingly, so it's likely to be a team comprised of: Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Benedikt Howedes; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos; Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Miroslav Klose in a 4-3-3 system.
Alejandro Sabella's selection has been compromised by injuries to key players, but it seems unlikely either Angel di Maria or Sergio Aguero will return. And, therefore, in a 4-4-1-1 system the team is likely to be: Sergio Romero; Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis, Ezequiel Garay, Marcos Rojo; Enzo Perez, Lucas Biglia, Javier Mascherano, Ezequiel Lavezzi; Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero.
Three-man defences competed well at this tournament, but these two use a flat back four. It terms of formations, the battles are straightforward - the midfield trios will be matched, with Messi v Schweinsteiger, Mascherano v Khedira and Biglia v Kroos. The wingers will be up against the full-backs, and both teams will have a spare man at the back. Judging by this alone, we could be in for a tight, tense contest.
Of course, the situation is more complex than that, and it's likely Sabella will be hugely concerned about his midfielders becoming overrun. Therefore, it's likely Perez, notionally fielded on the right but essentially an extra central midfielder, will play very narrow. There's no particular danger from Howedes at left-back, and Perez can instead concentrate on helping Biglia and Mascherano win the battle in the middle of the pitch. Kroos and Khedira will press, so Argentina's midfielders must offload the ball quickly, or risk doing a Fernandinho.
Perez and Lavezzi switched flanks regularly against the Netherlands in the semi-final, and something similar could happen again here, though it seems more likely Lavezzi will play wide-left against Lahm, the game's best attacking full-back.
Argentina's main tactic, of course, will be to supply Messi as quickly as possible, and it's imperative for Germany that Schweinsteiger has a solid game in front of the back four. Germany will try to remain very compact, denying Argentina's number ten space between the lines. Because they want to press in midfield, this means a high defensive line - and it's worth remembering that while Higuain isn't a pure speedster, he does possess pace. In Napoli's 2-1 win over Dortmund in last season's Champions League, he caused Hummels constant problems with his pace, and might fancy this match-up. Expect more sweeping from Neuer.
The key battle, though, is between Argentina's left-back and Germany's right-sided forward: Rojo against Muller. Rojo started the tournament very adventurously but has retreated into a more defensive position, which will be crucial considering the way Muller destroyed Brazil by attacking in behind Marcelo.
Muller is extremely difficult to mark, and is capable of popping up with a goal at an unexpected time, especially in big games - he'll drift inside to become something of second striker alongside Klose.
It's also worth considering Germany's quality from set-pieces. Muller started the 4-0 rout over Argentina four years ago by turning in a free-kick, also scored the opener following a set-piece situation against USA, and converted a right-wing corner for the first goal against Brazil. The other major threat is Hummels, who has gone up for set-pieces to score against both Portugal and France in this tournament. I'll have a bet on Hummels to open the scoring at [0.0].
I expect this to be a tight game, but it's tough not to favour Germany after their midweek performance, and because they've had extra rest - 24 hours in literal terms, but realistically they only had to play for half an hour against Brazil, too, while Argentina went 120 minutes against the Dutch.
I think Germany will nick this 1-0, available at [7.4].
The Betfair Trader's View: Alan Thompson
Germany have defeated Argentina in the last two World Cups at the quarter-final stage. While the meeting in 2006 required penalties, in South Africa Germany put four past Argentina without reply. It’s hard to see how the Germans won’t make that a hat trick of World Cup wins against Argentina following their superb win over Brazil, chiefly because Argentina have had a day's less rest, had a long and bruising encounter with Netherlands, while Germany enjoyed what was really nothing more than a training session in their semi-final, especially in the second half.
Confidence in the German camp must be huge but with that confidence comes the worry that they become too complacent. If they lose their focus and their levels drop, Argentina have the attacking quality to hurt them. Lionel Messi could be the difference in this game, but you are gambling on the Germans dropping a level and the real Messi turning up. There is no doubt that Argentina’s amazing supporters will turn up in massive numbers again both inside and outside the Maracana, but that support could be levelled as you have to assume the locals will become big German fans for at least 90 minutes.
Argentina have kept three clean sheets in the knockout rounds and Germany in normal time have only conceded a consolation goal to Brazil (the goal they conceded to Algeria came in extra time). With three of the last four World Cup finals being level at the half time interval I think there is a chance that could happen again but ultimately I think it will be Germany who will find something extra in the second half. I will be splitting my stake and backing Draw/Germany @ 6.0 in the Half Time/Full Time market and also as cover for that backing Germany in the Match Odds market @ 2.36 in case they go goal crazy again and take another South American giant down early.