And so it finally happened! 120 minutes on the 13th of July 2014; 120 minutes in the famous Maracana Stadium; 120 minutes to determine the World Champions; 120 minutes to change soccer players into legends.
…and what a tense 120 minutes it turned out to be as a total of 36 fouls were made. With seven goals conceded between both teams before kick-off, this was always going to be a cagey affair. Both sides were set up defensively very solid with the main objective being not to concede.
Chances were few and far between but Mario Goetze made the most of his only real chance in front of the Argentine goal. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos were the heartbeat of a resilient Die Mannschaft completing an impressive 191 passes between them. On the other hand, Lionel Messi was fairly anonymous as he completed just 28 passes and failed to test Manuel Neuer who once again was calmness personified in the German goal.
Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero were deemed not fit enough for Argentina to be in the starting line-up with Ezequiel Lavezzi and the versatile Enzo Perez continuing in their place. La Albiceleste’s game-plan in the first half was clearly to soak up pressure and try to catch their opponents on the counter attack.
Whilst on paper the Germans were lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Thomas Mueller could be seen often taking up a position alongside Miroslav Klose and Mesut Oezil cropped down both the left and right sides of the Argentina defense time and time again. The midfield movement was fluid throughout much of the match.
Kroos helped make up the numbers down the center of midfield but at times the wide areas were left exposed in the opening 45 minutes with Oezil in particular seemingly reluctant to track back.
Argentina attacked with Lavezzi and Messi taking up areas behind Higuain and Perez coming in from the left side. However, while defending the PSG forward and Perez took up positions on either side of the midfield pairing of Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia thus defending in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Messi taking a role behind Higuain. These two banks of four helped keep things tight with the role of Lavezzi and Perez crucial to maintain the desired shape.
Germany’s set up was somewhat altered after half an hour play as Andre Schuerrle came on for a dazed Christoph Kramer who suffered a head injury moments earlier. Kroos was asked to restrain his attacking instinct taking Kramer’s (who was making his full World Cup debut) previously occupied role as Schuerrle joined Mueller and Oezil in an increasingly fluid German attacking line.
Truth be told, both sides cancelled each other in a cagey first half with the only real chances coming from two defensive mistakes (Kroos and Mascherano being the culprits) and a corner kick resulting in Hoewedes smashing the post with a firm header.
Throughout the World Cup, the Lavezzi has shown that his tactical discipline is miles better than that of Aguero’s and he proved so once again in Rio de Janeiro doubling up with Zabaleta behind him to set up an impenetrable barrier down the Argentine right. However, he was withdrawn in half-time with the Manchester City forward taking his place. Perez was shifted to a more central position with Aguero appearing alongside Higuain. This took the Germans by surprise as Argentina missed a couple of good opportunities to open the scoring early on in the second half with Messi being in particular wasteful.