A Germany side chasing a place in history will attempt to wreck Lionel Messi’s dream of a World Cup coronation with Argentina today as the month-long soccer carnival hits a climax at the Maracana Stadium.
The 64th game of one of the best World Cups of all time pits Europe against South America — a duel between two soccer superpowers in one of the sport’s most evocative arenas.
Germany are attempting to become the first side from Europe to win a World Cup in the Americas, determined that a golden generation will finally gets it reward after a string of near-misses.
Meanwhile, Messi is seeking the triumph which will silence forever the remaining critics who argue that the absence of a World Cup title precludes him from a place alongside Diego Maradona in soccer’s pantheon.
The momentum is firmly with Germany after their astonishing 7-1 semi-final demolition job of Brazil, through a combination of superb attacking play and defensive incompetence.
Ominously for Argentina, Germany say they quickly put the win firmly in the rear-view mirror.
All German eyes are now on the historic Maracana and a chance to claim the ultimate prize after losing in either the final or the semi-finals in their last four major tournaments.
“We enjoyed the game against Brazil, but we ticked it off after 24 hours,” Germany striker Miroslav Klose said.
That same steely determination has characterised Germany’s road to Rio, notably in coming from behind to snatch a 2-2 draw with Ghana in Group G and outlasting an awkward Algerian challenge in the last 16.
They coolly neutralized a dangerous-looking France 1-0 in the quarter-finals and swiftly turned their attention to dismembering Brazil.
From top to bottom, the German spine has exuded quality. Manuel Neuer has looked unbeatable in goal, while Mats Hummels has been a silky and solid presence in defence. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira have proved a formidable midfield duo, allowing the likes of Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozil to flourish.
Thomas Mueller has been a deadly goalscoring threat — five goals so far in the tournament — while the 36-year-old Klose has chipped in with two goals, becoming the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer in the process.
Germany’s 17 goals in the tournament — more than double Argentina’s total — have come from eight different players, a testament to the team ethic which pervades Joachim Loew’s squad.
“Brazil have Neymar, Portugal have Ronaldo, Argentina have Messi and Germany have a team,” one widely retweeted summary on Twitter ran this week.
Ranged against Germany’s attacking arsenal are an Argentina side led by 27-year-old Barcelona superstar Messi.
The four-time world soccer player of the year came into the tournament determined to atone for two disappointing World Cups in 2006 and 2010.
Like Maradona 28 years ago, he has dragged his team over the line at key moments in Brazil. He opened with an individual goal against Bosnia, an injury-time winner to beat Iran, and two more goals against Nigeria.
Messi’s run and pass created the extra-time winner for Angel Di Maria against Switzerland in the last 16.
While he was largely anonymous in the semi-final win over the Dutch, Germany will know that one slip on Sunday could present Messi with a match-winning moment, just as it did for Maradona in the 1986 final against the Germans.