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Germany and Argentina were two of the favorites to go all the way when the 2014 World Cup kicked off a month ago. So its no big surprise that Die Mannschaft (the team) and La Albiceleste (the sky blue and whites, referring to Argentina’s national colors) are the last two standing for Sunday’s final.
But the road has not been smooth for either team. Germany demolished hosts Brazil 7-1 in their semi-final match but they struggled in the group stages against Ghana, drawing 2-2, and barely squeaked by Algeria in the second round, winning 2-1 in extra time. Argentina has done just enough, winning each of their World Cup matches by exactly one goal, including three 1-0 victories, before their goalless draw against The Netherlands in the semi-finals, which Argentina won in a penalty shootout.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for Sunday’s game. So how do the two teams, and the two countries, stack up?
This is the third time Germany and Argentina have faced off in a World Cup final. A recently re-united Germany won last time, in Italy in 1990, while Argentina defeated then West Germany in Mexico in 1986. All told, the two teams have met in competition 15 times, with Argentina winning 9 and Germany 6.
In more recent head-to-heads, Germany has had the edge, beating Argentina on penalties in the quarter finals of the 2006 World Cup in Berlin and thrashing them 4-0 in the 2010 quarters in South Africa. Most odds put Germany as narrow favorites to win Sunday. If Germany were to pull it off, it would be the first time a European squad has ever raised a World Cup trophy in Latin America. Argentina have won the World Cup twice. Germany are chasing their fourth title.
Going into the final, Germany is ranked second in the world, according to soccer governing body FIFA, while Argentina is fifth in the standings. Whatever the outcome Sunday, Germany will take over the number one spot from Spain, which tumbled in the rankings after their inglorious first-round exit from the Cup.
The Stars: Messi vs Muller
Lionel Messi, Argentina’s diminutive superstar, has shone brightly, if briefly, at the World Cup so far. His Playstation-like dribbling has been decisive in several matches, particularly in Argentina’s last minute goal against Iran. The eyes of his nation will be on the 27-year-old as he contests his first-ever World Cup final. Messi is widely hailed as the greatest player of his generation but he needs to step up on soccer’s biggest stage to take his place alongside countryman Diego Maradona as one of true giants of the game.
Thomas Muller is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Messi. The German midfielder earns around $4 million a year for club Bayern Munich, compared to the $44 million plus Messi takes home at Barcelona. But Muller has outscored the Argentine star at this World Cup, with 5 goals to Messi’s 4.
The South Americans have learned not to underestimate Muller. Ahead of the 2010 World Cup,Maradona, then the Argentine coach, refused to share a podium with Muller at a press conference, saying he’d never heard of him. Muller went on to score against Argentina on route to winning the Golden Boot and Best Young Player Award. “I bet he knows who I am now,” the German player quipped.
Best Soccer Movie: Underdogs vs The Miracle of Bern
The list of great soccer films is a short one but Argentina and Germany have both produced a cinema gem in tribute to the beautiful game.
Underdogs, also known as Foosball locally, is a 3D animated feature adapted from a short story by beloved comic writer Roberto Fontanarrosa by Oscar-winning director Juan JoseCampanella (The Secret in Their Eyes). A huge hit in Argentina, the film grossed more than $14 million. The English-language version features the voice of Harry Potter star Rupert Grint.
Germany’s best soccer film is Sonke Wortmann‘s 2004 period drama The Miracle of Bern, a look at the 1954 World Cup, when Germany were the underdogs but somehow managed to defeat favorites Hungary. The film grossed $28 million in Germany and won numerous awards, including the audience award for best film at the German film awards.
Biggest Fans: Merkel vs The Pope
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a loyal and vocal supporter of the national side and can regularly be seen in the stands of big matches, cheering on her boys in one of her trademark pantsuits.
On the other side of the pitch is Pope Francis. The Catholic Church’s holy father is a passionate soccer fan and a devout follower of Argentine club San Lorenzo. The Pope won’t make the trip to Brazil for the final and may not even watch the match. The Vatican’s spokesman told the Associated Press the Pope normally goes to bed at 10 pm local time in Rome, an hour after kick off. Matters are also complicated by the fact that Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict, is German (though not a big soccer fan). Pope Francis has already promised that he won’t pray for his home team to win, so Argentina will not be able to count on spiritual assistance on Sunday.
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