What a Win Would Mean: Germany won the 1990 World Cup. They followed that up with a triumph Euro 1996. Since then, they have lost to Brazil in the 2002 World Cup Final and have reached at least the semifinal at the last four major tournaments and come up empty. Winning would be the pinnacle for the Klose/Schweinsteiger/Lahm era and a true validation for Germany’s revamped academy system. It would also be the last time we hear about European teams, England and Italy excepted, not traveling well.
Disregard the Brazil Result: Germany beat down Brazil 7-1. Argentina struggled to a 0-0 draw with the Netherlands. Germany is much better than Argentina, right? Well, not so fast. Germany were better than Brazil. But, that semifinal match was as much implosion as it was obliteration. Without Neymar, Brazil had no one with the pace and guile to get behind Germany’s high defensive line. That freed their central midfield to press forward on a Brazilian midfield not adept at holding position. Brazil’s defense was disorganized without Thiago Silva. Germany overloaded on poor Marcelo. Within a half hour, the match was over.
Against Portugal and Brazil, we saw what the Germans can do to shattered teams. Against the United States, Algeria and France, we saw the Germans labor like mortals and struggle to break down resolute defending. Expect Argentina to resemble the latter group. The Argentines have played 300 minutes in the knockout stages, against potent Switzerland, Belgium and Netherlands teams, without allowing a goal.
Central Midfield: Most teams would be happy with one versatile, box to box midfielder who can defend and provide plus value on the ball. Germany, with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos, have three who are, in the words of Arsene Wenger, “top, top quality.” The former two are now fit. That means the Germans will dominate the middle against just about anyone. It also means they can slide Philipp Lahm back to his natural right back position. Not coincidentally, the German team has looked stronger and more balanced in the last two knockout rounds than the group stage.
World Cup Scorers: Some players have a nose for goal. Some players have an uncanny ability to thrive under the World Cup spotlight. Germany has two of the best, at both. Miroslav Klose, playing in his fourth World Cup at 36, is the tournament’s all-time leading scorer with 16 goals. Thomas Mueller, 24 and playing in his second, already has 11. Neither has a huge profile at club level. Either can punctuate a match’s equilibrium at just the right moment. In a tight match, Germany may need it to happen once.
The Weak Side: The Lahm shift solidified the right side of Germany’s defense. The left could still present some trouble. Germany’s vaunted academy overhaul has come up a bit short at left back. Jogi Low left unfavored Marcel Schmelzer on the tarmac in Germany. The other natural option, 22-year-old Erik Durm, has one career cap. Low’s solution has been playing a center back, Benedikt Howedes, out of position. He’s vulnerable to pace, Germany’s center backs don’t have ideal recovery speed and Mesut Ozil is not a player inclined to track back and protect. Expect Argentina to shade Messi to that side to interplay with Higuain and Lavezzi down the wing.
The Key: Humility and focus. In 2010, Germany hammered England and Argentina in the knockout rounds, then had a letdown against Spain. At Euro 2012, Germany emerged from the “group of death” with three wins, dumped four goals on Greece in the quarterfinal and then had a letdown against Italy. In 2014, they enter the final coming off maybe the most impressive win in World Cup history. German players are well aware of what they have not won. They have said all the right things about not being satisfied. Proving it on the field is another matter.