After tearing out the collective footballing heart of a nation, and leaving the pitch in Belo Horizonte strewn with broken dreams and shattered reputations, Germany know there is still work to do. As stunning as their 7-1 dismemberment of Brazil was, the scoreboard has been reset, and another South American giant stands between Die Mannschaft and World Cup glory. Will it be a repeat of the 1986 final, that saw West Germany outclassed by Argentina in a 3-2 defeat, or will it be more like the grand finale of Italia '90, when the Germans gained their revenge over the Albiceleste with a 1-0 win?
Road To The Final
Germany made a strong opening statement in Group G, as they demolished their supposedly strongest section rivals Portugal 4-0. Joachim Low's men benefited from some haphazard Portuguese defending and the ill-judged excesses of Real Madrid centre-back Pepe, who got himself sent off for an excruciatingly silly head-butt on Thomas Muller. By that stage Muller had already netted the opener from the penalty spot, and he went on to help himself to a hat-trick, with the other goal coming from a thumping Mats Hummels header.
Despite the one-sided scoreline, Germany had shown defensive vulnerability on the counter-attack, and that weakness was exploited in a chaotic 2-2 draw with Ghana. Having taken a 51st-minute lead through Mario Gotze's unusual finish (off his face, onto his knee and in), Germany alarmingly lost control of the match. Goals from Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew turned the match on its head, and Low's men needed an equaliser from substitute Miroslav Klose to get them out of jail. A shock defeat was avoided, but questions were raised about Germany's ability to deal with physical opponents.
For the final group game against USA, Low brought Bastian Schweinsteiger into his starting XI for the first time, and the Bayern Munich man's industry, toughness and drive made a difference. In a tight game against a side led by ex-Germany coach and striker Jurgen Klinsmann, Muller netted the only goal in a 1-0 win. The performance was far from perfect, and US skipper Clint Dempsey spurned a great late chance to equalise.
So Germany topped Group G, but had failed to play anywhere near their maximum level. They were heavily fancied to sweep away Algeria in the last 16, but the North Africans used their pace on the counter to cause Germany's defence all sorts of problems. Keeper Manuel Neuer was effectively used as a full-time sweeper, as the Desert Warriors constantly looked for a route to goal. Having survived numerous scares, Germany went up a gear in extra-time, as Andre Schurrle and Mesut Ozil carved out a 2-0 lead. Abdelmoumene Djabou's consolation goal for Algeria was well-deserved, but futile.
Germany's first truly convincing performance of the tournament came in their 1-0 quarter-final victory over France. Klose was given his first start in attack, and although Germany failed to create many chances, they didn't really need to. Once Mats Hummels had headed home in the 12th minute, Germany worked like Trojans to keep the French at bay. Germany collectively ran over seven kilometres further than their opponents, and centre-backs Hummels and Jerome Boateng were outstanding. The defence also benefited from skipper Philipp Lahm being switched from midfield to right-back.
Germany had shown they were a formidable unit - a team rather than a group of disparate individuals. Those cohesive qualities were in evidence as the hosts Brazil were pulverised 7-1 in the semi-finals. As I suggested they might in my preview of the match, the hosts totally failed to keep their composure and discipline in such an emotionally-charged environment. Muller's scored his fifth of the tournament from a corner on 11 minutes, and then from the 23rd minute to the 29th, one of the most extraordinary passages of play in football history unfolded. As 32.5 million German fans watched at home on TV, their team scored four goals, including a strike from Miroslav Klose which made him the all-time leading goalscorer in World Cup Finals.
After just 29 minutes, the game was over, and Brazil's hopes had been brutally torn asunder. To underline Germany's strength in depth, sub Andre Schurrle bagged a second-half brace. Having fallen at the semi-final hurdle in 2006 and 2010, Germany had booked a place in the World Cup final, a chance to end a 24-year wait for global glory.
Low used the same starting 11 against both France and Brazil, and is expected to name another unchanged line-up against Argentina. There are no suspension worries, and the only injury doubt is Hummels, who has tendonitis in his right knee. If Hummels does miss out, then Arsenal's Per Mertesacker is the natural replacement.
It would be easy to get carried away by beating the hosts 7-1, but Germany have preached caution and humility in their press conferences. Low has warned his players they have won nothing yet, and he has hailed Argentina as a team that is "strong defensively, with brilliant attacking players like Messi and Higuain". Toni Kroos, who was man of the match against Brazil, says Germany are only in Brazil to win the World Cup, and the semi-final victory will count for nothing if they fail now.
Despite this necessary lack of bravado, I think Germany are rightfully the [1.72] favourites to win the World Cup. Keeper Neuer has been outstanding - he has swept up behind the defence, made superb saves and dominated his penalty area. The defence has improved as the tournament has progressed (four goals conceded in six games), and Lahm has shored up the right-back slot. The midfield trio of Kroos, Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira are in great form, with Khedira and Kroos breaking into the box at will against Brazil. There's enough energy and bravery in that department to at least match the fearsome Javier Mascherano.
Muller has been outstanding for the second World Cup running, and a goal in the final could see him given the Golden Boot (I tipped him at [36.0] pre-tournament, he is now [3.25]), Opta tell us that Mesut Ozil has created more chances (15) than any other German player at the tournament, and Klose has the experience and composure to put a chance away under massive pressure.
Although Lionel Messi is the best player on the planet, I think Germany are about to prove they are the best team on the planet. Argentina have scored just two goals in three knockout games, and although they are strong at the back, Germany's fluid movement in attack could catch out centre-backs Ezequiel Garay and Martin Demichelis.
I think Germany will win the final, but it might take them a while to break Argentina down and get their noses in front. Two of Argentina's three knockout games have gone to extra-time, and in the Qualifying Method market I think it's worth putting half a point each on Germany Extra Time at [12.5] and Germany Penalties at [10.5]. I know Argentina have just won a penalty shoot-out against the Dutch, but would you want to take a penalty against Manuel Neuer in his current form?
So then, to Germany the spoils, even if it takes all night at the Maracana.
Back Germany Extra Time at [12.5] and Germany Penalties at [10.5] in the Qualifying Method market (half a point each)
You've read Kevin's lowdown on Germany - now check out Argentinian football columnist Ed Malyon's take on Sabella's men
World Cup 2014 P/L
Points Staked: 17
Points Returned: 23.22
P/L: +6.22 points