What would a win mean? Lionel Messi has been the most dominant player at the highest level of competition for the better part of a decade. On paper, he surpasses almost anyone. Messi does not need a World Cup triumph to validate his career. He’s already in the discussion for best player of all-time. What a World Cup win would do is end the discussion. Besides their iconic star, a win would be a resurgence for Argentina. They have been, for the most part, languid and disappointing since winning with Maradona in 1986. Winning is a stronger motivation than revenge, but Germany did knock Argentina out in both 2006 and 2010.
What happened to the goals? Argentina entered the 2014 World Cup with what looked like the tournament’s most ferocious attack. Beyond the odd bit of Messi magic, this has not materialized. The Argentines lit up scoreboards in 2010 and dropped 35 goals on South American opponents during qualifying. Thus far, they have scored eight in six matches. One was an own goal. Three came in one match against Nigeria. Argentina have scored once in the regulation 90 minutes over three knockout matches. They needed an extra-time winner to beat Iran in the group stage. Instead of the 1986 winners, this Argentina team has resembled the bleak 1990 team that clawed its way to the final. Counterpoint: the Argentines have looked far more organized and solid at the back than anyone anticipated.
Softer Run: Germany has looked like the better team. They also did so against much tougher opposition. Argentina had perhaps the easiest draw of any seeded team with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria. Germany had perhaps the toughest with Portugal, Ghana and the United States. Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands were no slouches. But Germany had to fend off a very aggressive Algeria team, a tough France side and the tournament hosts. Argentina has not looked imperious, against teams it should have.
Right Flank: Germany’s weakness (sort of) is the left side of defense. They don’t have a natural left back. Mesut Ozil is not on the field for his resolute defending. Argentina has looked its best overloading that side of the pitch with Higuain and Messi shading to that side and Lavezzi overlapping down the wing. If Argentina is creating chances from open play, expect it to come from there.
The Key: Javier Mascherano. Argentina is heavy on attackers, short on true midfielders. In what is basically a 4-2-4, he has been a one-man wrecking crew in midfield. He wins balls. He has been orchestrating the linkup play between defense and attack with precise passing (not his normal game). He has taken shots to the head, literally busted his ass and just kept going. Mascherano, as much as Messi, is the reason the Argentines are still here. They will need him to stand on his head, to balance plates and to do back flips for 90 minutes again, if they are to avoid getting overrun in midfield by the Germans.