Category Archives: Football

World Cup Final Preview: Argentina vs Germany

The final is with us…who will be the winner? All rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

This is it. The finale to the greatest World Cup in the history of World Cups. Yes, there is no Brazil, but in Argentina vs Germany, we are presented with a battle which has a lot of history. The final between the two nations is the 3rd final in recent history.

The 1986  final saw Argentina beat Germany 3-2, in a magic match where Maradona became the legend Maradona. In 1990, when the Germans won 1-0 in what was considered at the time a less than exciting performance from the two teams. Will this match be like the 1986 match, seeing Messi become the legend Messi, like Maradona. Or, will we see a clinical, efficient German win like in 1990?

This is a match which many regard as ‘team vs individual’. The well oiled, cohesive German unit vs the magic of Lionel Messi. Messi has not reached his best in this tournament, but, he has one final chance, one final stage, the biggest stage of them all, to create his very own Maradona moment.

The last time these two teams met in a World Cup, Germany were easy 4-0 winners, 4 years ago in South Africa. They managed to keep Lionel Messi quiet and were hugely impressive that day. Yet, things may be different this time around.

Messi is now much more patient, more intelligent, and has more creativity in the No10 role, than 4 years ago.

The man with the unenviable task of stopping Messi will be Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has played the deep-lying midfield role since the 1-0 quarter-final victory over France. Schweinsteiger is an excellent passer, but can struggle defensively against tricky, top-class opponents. This explains why Joachim Loew was so adamant to play Philipp Lahm there, as he lacks that natural holding midfielder. The rest of the composition of the German midfield is made up of Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira. They will most likely be unable to help Schweinsteiger as they will be tasked with pressing and rushing the Argentine midfield.

Germany have changed the way they play, since the 1-0 loss in 2010 to Spain. Germany sat much deeper, allowed Spain to have the ball and counter attacked whenever possible. However, things changed when Spain went 1-0 through Carlos Puyol, and Germany were then required to chase the ball and chase the game. Spain opted to keep possession without fuss. This is when the Germans were trying to press Spain, yet they expended so much energy in doing so that they were “too tired to do anything with the ball” as Miroslav Klose stated.

Germany have indeed shifted to a more possession based game than before, but the second shift is another thing they took from Spain’s performance that day- the pressing. Pep Guardiola’s famed 7 second rule is to win the ball back within 7 seconds of losing it. Spain did something similar in 2010. Though it is no surprise that Xavi was the leading passer on that day, he also covered the most distance of any player. He led the Spain press, urging his players to win the ball. He showed that the old saying of running more without the ball was nonsense.

Germany have certainly included that aspect in their game this World Cup, pressing higher up the pitch. Kroos and Khedira did this often vs Brazil, to Fernandinho and Gustavo. The 4th goal showed this perfectly; Kroos robbed the ball from Fernandinho, played a one-two with Khedira and converted into an empty net. Germany are now playing passes in the opposition area, as opposed to their own area.

Germany's cohesive machine...can anybody stop them? All rights are reserved for this image ©
Germany’s cohesive machine…can anybody stop them? All rights are reserved for this image ©

There has been much talk about Manuel Neuer as the ‘sweeper keeper’, with many calling him the ‘crazy keeper’. Neuer is essential to this new German style of play. With the emphasis now on pressing higher up the pitch, there is more space left in behind the German defence. That requires Neuer to charge out and cover the space, something he has done very effectively so far. Pressing is not about a few individuals covering space/angles at certain times, it is about a whole team unit doing it in perfect sync.

Argentina will be trying their best not to be overrun in midfield, and not to get broken down by Germany’s pressing. This will be tough for Argentina considering they have had 1 day’s less rest.

Enzo Perez is likely to continue for Argentina in place of Angel Di Maria. Though he is not a natural wing replacement, he will narrow in and make the midfield into a 3 man midfield, which should help Argentina cope better with Germany’s swarm.

The important man for Argentina will be Javier Mascherano. Fernandinho was often caught out for Brazil by dwelling on the ball very and having slow distribution. Argentina’s midfielders, especially Mascherano need to ensure they are not caught out. Mascherano will be helped by his experience at Barcelona, a passing mecca where swift distribution is a necessity.

Argentina are the polar opposite to Germany, which can be reflected in the difference in the 2 goalkeepers. Whilst Neuer is happy to charge out, Romero of Argentina prefers to stay in his area, protected by his deep lying defenders and midfielders. This tactic of cautious deep defending is probably the best solution and method for Argentina to adopt.

The other major threat to Argentina will be Thomas Muller. He is likely to start out on Argentina’s left, facing Marcos Rojo. Rojo must play the best game of his career if he is to stop Muller. Muller has scored 10 World Cup goals, has pace, power and intelligence in abundance.

Going forward, Argentina are wholly reliant on Messi, more so now that Di Maria will most likely be ruled out through injury. Messi plays a much more relaxed role for Argentina than at Barcelona, more of an old-fashioned, languid Argentine No. 10 role. He’s not expected to press energetically, and remains in a position to always receive the ball.

Messi will drift over to the right, as he did regularly during the tedious draw against the Netherlands. This will be a concern for Germany, because their weak link is Benedikt Howedes, who hasn’t looked comfortable at left back. Howedes though, may cope, as being a right footer, he is equipped to stop Messi from drifting inside.

Germany must work as a unit to stop Messi. Schweinsteiger has to be incredibly disciplined, and have the best game of his career, to stop the best player of the modern era. Kroos and Khedira have to press the Argentine midfield to stop them playing balls into Messi. Germany must then somehow find a way to suffocate Messi, and not allow him space to dribble.

This will be a fascinating final. Of course, there is a lot of emphasis on tactics. Yet above everything, in this big final, will be the mentality of each player. Can they cope with the pressure? Can they cope with the eyes of 3 billion on them?

It is time for Germany to stand up, and win a World Cup after 24 years. There are no more excuses. No more ‘potential from players’. Loew himself has said it, “we have players playing at their peak.” This is a team which is far superior to Argentina.

Argentina are the underdogs, but they have Messi. If Messi puts on a show, then the World Cup will belong to Argentina. It is a big ‘IF’. He has looked exhausted in the knock outs. Many question whether he has enough left in the tank to perform in the final, against this rapid-fire German machine.

Can Messi have his Maradona moment? All rights are reserved for this image ©

One feels, it is not tactics which will solely win the game, but cool and calm minds as well. Germany are the favourites, but it is time for Messi to stand up and deliver.

Probable XIs:

Argentina (4-4-1-1): Romero; Zabaleta, F Fernández, Garay, Rojo; E Perez, Mascherano, Biglia, Lavezzi; Messi; Higuaín.

Germany (4-3-3): Neuer; Lahm, Hummels, Boateng, Höwedes; Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Kroos; Özil, Müller, Klose.


Argentina vs Netherlands: Semi Final Preview

Who will book a place into the final? All rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

This match is the meeting of mastery. The mastery of Louis van Gaal vs the mastery of Lionel Messi. All the focus is on the plan van Gaal will devise, to stop Argentina’s wizard from casting such a spell which would send Argentina through to the final at the expense of Netherlands.

Argentina are very reliant on Messi. He has dragged them into the semi-finals, with a little help from Angel Di Maria. Unfortunately for Argentina, Di Maria is a severe doubt for the match, putting sole pressure on Messi.

Argentina have not looked convincing all tournament, this is far from the greatest Argentinian team. Yet there is seemingly a sense of fate developing for Argentina fans. The semi-final falls on the day of Argentinian independence. It is the first time since 1990 and the heroics of Sergio Goycochea, that Argentina have progressed past the quarter-final stage.

There is little criticism in Argentina for the way they have performed. It’s more so about results than eye-catching football. Argentina have indeed delivered a few special moments. Messi, Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain have provided moments of inspiration, but this is, as Messi says, “more than ever a team.”

Coach Sabella has selection and tactical dilemmas for the semi-final. If Di Maria is indeed out, there is no obvious replacement in the squad. This could lead to a change in system, to a 5-3-2 formation, particularly with the return of Marcos Rojo- the same system which was used without success in the first half vs Bosnia. This however, would be a massive gamble, with Ezequiel Lavezzi missing out, and a risk of upsetting Messi, who disliked this system.

Enzo Perez may come in for Argentina in place of Di Maria, and play as a right sided midfielder. Yet this selection is perhaps the one which decided the team shape.

A positive for Argentina in the win over Belgium was the performance of Martin Demichelis. He justified his selection and put in a powerful performance alongside Ezequiel Garay, coping with the physical threat of Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku. This bodes well for Argentina, in case Netherlands opt for a more physical presence up top in the form of Klaas jan Huntelaar.

Demichelis is an underrated defender. He is a powerful defender, strong tackler and is relatively effective with possession. He is often caught out at Manchester City because his partnership with Vincent Kompany is not cohesive. Kompany is a front-foot defender, who has a more individual style of defending, as opposed to a partnership based style.

The biggest dilemma for Louis van Gaal will be how to deal with the threat of Lionel Messi. Will he opt for a man to man marker or look to crowd him out? The likelihood is man marking, as van Gaal has opted to man mark his opponents in this tournament.

Van Gaal has perhaps been the most tactically astute out of all the managers in the tournament. He has not been afraid to change formations, displaying 4 different formations at different parts of games throughout.

He has been brave and cold in his decision making. The most notable include taking Robin van Persie off when 1-0 down and bringing on Tim Krul just for the penalty shoot outs. Decisions which worked.

Van Gaal will probably revert to the 3-4-1-2 system he used in the group stage. He can play an attack-minded wing-back on the left, which most likely means Dirk Kuyt but on the right against Lavezzi he’ll favour a more defensive player, probably Daryl Janmaat. Daley Blind is the obvious partner for De Jong- if De Jong returns.

The man-marking in the midfield by Netherlands means Wesley Sneijder will press Javier Mascherano, Blind will be on Lucas Biglia, and De Jong against Messi, playing in a man-marker destroying role. This will force the Argentine centre-backs into more risky passes, as the easy passes into the midfield will not always be available.

Van Gaal has cleverly covered Dutch defensive deficiencies through safety in numbers. Netherlands look very streaky at the back playing just the 2 centre backs, so van Gaal has opted to play 3. As a result, Higuain should be expected to be man-marked very tightly.

Netherlands strategy will be primarily about counter attacking very quickly, through Arjen Robben. Having started wide-right against Costa Rica, where he got three opposition players booked, he’s likely to return to a more central position here, drifting wide into the channels.

Robben will favour himself in any 1v1 situation, so it is vital for Argentina to not allow him to be 1v1.

A problem for Netherlands could be fatigue. They looked shattered in the penalty shoot vs Costa Rica. The World Cup has seen Netherlands go to Salvador to Porto Alegre, Sao Paulo, Fortaleza, back to Salvador and now Sao Paulo once again. These narrow margins could provide to be the difference. 

This game is unlikely to be a feast of football, but it is undoubtedly going to be a wonderful tactical battle.

Probable XIs:

Argentina (4-3-3): Romero, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Rojo; Biglia, Mascherano, Alvarez; Messi, Lavezzi, Higuain.

Netherlands (3-4-1-2): Cillessen; de Vrij, Vlaar, Indi; Janmaat, De Jong, Blind, Kuyt; Sneijder; Robben, Van Persie.

German Blitzkrieg batters Brazil

Masterclass by Kroos and Germany...can anybody stop them? All rights are reserved for this image ©
Masterclass by Kroos and Germany…can anybody stop them? All rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey

7-1. This was a night which will go down in footballing history, as the night the music died on Brazil’s World Cup dreams. A rampant Germany demolished Brazil and created a national calamity in the Mecca of Football.

This was a masterclass by Germany, one so impressive that it was even applauded by the Brazil fans. The footballing fraternity in Brazil knows good football when they see it, and this was football of the highest calibre.

It was a humiliation for Brazil. The famous yellow shirt in football was disgraced by Brazil’s players. Yet credit must be given to Joachim Loew’s side. It was said before that the experienced players had to take control, and the younger players had to finally realise their potential- they did just that.

Toni Kroos was magnificent, running the game and scoring 2 goals. Sami Khedira hushed his doubters with perhaps the best performance of his career. Thomas Muller was once again superb, taking his total World Cup goals tally to 10. He is surely on course to beat the new record of 16 goals set by Miroslav Klose tonight.

10 World Cup goals for Muller at just 24...All rights are reserved for this image ©
10 World Cup goals for Muller at just 24…All rights are reserved for this image ©

It was brutal. Tears in the eyes of grown men and women. Children weeping at seeing their heroes being dismantled. Many Brazil fans stayed and were defiant in their chanting of “Brasil Brasil”, even as the goals poured in. Khedira, Kroos, Muller, Ozil et al all provided cleverness, power and skill in attack, whilst the Brazilian defence was non existent. £50million for David Luiz seems a tad overpriced it would seem.

For Germany, this was redemption, this was revenge, for the final of 2002 in Japan. That night, the tears were all German and the plaudits all Brazilian. Ronaldo dismantled Germany. This time, Germany were the force.

They seem perfectly equipped to go all the way and win a 4th World Cup. Germany have the manager, the players, the defensive skill, the attacking prowess. They have the leadership qualities. They have the ability to suppress emotion and play football with a cold mind.

For Brazil, this tournament was their shot at redemption for 1950, when they lost to Uruguay in the final in Brazil. One fan who experienced that heartache vs Uruguay, was sitting in the stadium and said his one final wish was to see Brazil win the World Cup in Brazil. The defeat Maracanazo in 1950 left scars unknown to Brazil. This time, they have a matching scar to deal with.

No focus in defending left Muller unmarked from a corner, to volley in the opening goal. Neymar may have been a loss, but Thiago Silva’s absence led to a complete capitulation of Brazil’s defence. Prior to this goal, Muller had 9 World Cup goals for Germany. He loves this stage. He loves scoring for his country.

Klose is no stranger to World Cup goals. He responded to the threat of Muller with a typical goal from inside the box, taking his tally to 16 and overtaking Ronaldo. Ronaldo was in the gantry, commentating, and he graciously congratulated Klose on-air.

Brazil seemed demoralised by this point, and the absence of Thiago Silva seemed to hit them hard. There was no leadership, no call to the players to sit back, weather the German storm and regroup. Instead, they continued to remain open, and Kroos scored 2 goals in 2 mins to kill Brazilian dreams.

Lahm sent in a neat cross, which was missed by Muller but hammered home by Kroos. He then quickly added a second, stealing the ball from Fernandinho, passing to Khedira who returned it to Kroos for a simple finish. Cesar was beaten. Afforded no protection by his defence.

The Germans, played with ice in their veins and showed no mercy. They were relentless. Ozil passed to Khedira who eased in a 5th.

There was no respite after half time. Fernandinho and Hulk were taken off, on came Ramires and Paulinho. Despite having a few more chances, Brazil encountered the man mountain, Neuer. Andre Schurrle was brought on and added 2 quick goals. The first one, a simple tap in. The second, a wonderful touch and superb shot from a tight angle.

Oscar added a consolation, yet it was perhaps the most pointless goal in World Cup history.

Brazil’s fans were unforgiving. Chanting expletives at Fred until he was subbed off. A ring of boos thundered around the stadium at the final whistle. Brazil’s players sank to their knees. They knew the stain that would be on their reputations for a long time to come.

Luiz in tears at the outcome...All rights are reserved for this image ©
Luiz in tears at the outcome…All rights are reserved for this image ©

Loew’s players showed superb sportsmanship. Consoling each Brazilian player and even waiting for Luiz to finish praying before approaching him. They were a class apart, both during and after the game.

This Brazil team has been average at best, with some flashes of brilliance from Neymar throughout the tournament. The likes of Pele, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Zico, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho have graced the sacred shirt. Now, the likes of mediocre footballers such as Fred, Hulk and Paulinho sport the shirt.

This was a defeat due to poor temperament, poor tactics and poor talent. Scolari opted to play 2 central midfielders, when he may have been better served playing 3 and matching Germany’s trio of Khedira, Kroos and Schweinsteiger. Scolari should have gone cautious. Instead, by playing the Brazilian way without the talent of players needed for the Brazilian way, he ended his team’s chances.

Brazil wanted to do it to vanquish the 1950 scars. They wanted to do it for Neymar. Yet perhaps they were overcome in the emotion of the whole Neymar situation. The pure emotion and adrenaline was evident in the anthems. Mascots and ball boys all welling up. Luiz and Julio Cesar holding aloft Neymar’s shirt. It seemed the Brazilians had lost their focus, too busy mourning the loss of Neymar. Lost focus against this German side spells danger.

Neymar's injury defeated Brazil...All rights are reserved for this image ©
Neymar’s injury defeated Brazil…All rights are reserved for this image ©

It was worrying to see that an entire team, an entire nation, was so affected by the loss of this one magician. There were parallels to when Pele was injured in 1962 and Brazil went on to win. It was all too easy to succumb to the emotion and sentimentality.

Football does not work like that. It was the cool, calm, footballing skill of the Germans which triumphed over emotion and sentimentality.

Brazil hoped to ride the wave of emotion to the final. Sadly for them, Germany’s talent, tactics and temperament were just too good.