We're down to the end of the World Cup. Holland beat Brazil for third place, 3-0 - that wasn't much closer than that. Tomorrow, we get the final, Germany vs. Argentina, coming in off very different wins - Germany's 7-1 demolition of the hosts; Argentina's 0-0 penalty win over the Netherlands. It's an interesting matchup.
I think Argentina is the story of the tournament. They came in built around Messi and their fantastic forward line - Higuain, DiMaria, Aguero - hoping to run people over, in front of a suspect defense. Instead? they started slowly - winning their group games narrowly, being shut down by Iran, being put under pressure by Nigeria - all the way looking very questionable in the back, and very dull up front. Messi did his work - but the rest of them were completely MIA, and Messi himself looked increasingly human. (Or completely surrounded most of the time; and the rest of the team didn't do anything to free him.) Then - they shut down Switzerland, shut down Belgium - and did both with increasingly organized, strong defensive work. And did the same with Holland. All of a sudden, they look like one of the best defensive teams in the tournament. It's been fascinating - 4 years ago, they poured in the goals, but the first organized team they played took them apart. This time - the goals dried up early, and they've turned themselves into Italy. Everyone still talks about this being Messi and 10 guys, but the last couple games have been Mascherano, the defense, and some other guys. (And Messi started turning up in front of his own penalty area...)
As for Brazil - they are being treated as the story after their collapse, but it's an odd collapse. They were thrashed by the Germans, beaten by Holland - but neither of those results look very surprising. They were coming - Brazil showed very little up to that point - the real story is probably their ability to outlast Chile and upset Columbia. Those games fooled me a bit - made me think that Brazil was getting cynical - willing and able to take the air out of the ball and win on set pieces... Not that that tactic would ever beat Germany, but it can keep a respectable scoreline. Instead, they decided to play all in attack against overwhelmingly good counterattacking sides, first Germany then Holland. They got their deserts.
And it was interesting in the third place game, watching the end - Brazil this time managed to hang around, though never looking all that strong. But in the last 10-15 minutes, the Dutch were still playing, and Brazil seemed to be looking for the exits. It brought the third goal - and summed things up. Brazil seemed completely lost in those games - willing to attack, especially early, but lost on defense, and once they fell behind, with no answers. Not enough offense to overcome a lead (they never mounted the kind of rally other teams did - look how the US reacted to being down 0-2, or Columbia, or look at the end of the Mexico-Holland game, or the end of the Switzerland-Argentina game, or even Greece when they went behind) - and still unwilling to play defense. They just folded up.
Anyway. Holland, meanwhile, had a nice world cup - beating Spain out of the gate gave them a nice path through the tourney, and they took advantage of it. Arjen Robben showed up - he was probably the best forward outside of James Rodriguez, and was again today.
And Germany? has done what they were supposed to do - they have been by far the best team, able to shut people down, able to score, able to play fast or slow, good on set pieces, good counter attacking, and good at ball control. They've done everything right. They are a game away from winning it all - and seem a good bet to do it. The way Argentina has been playing - they might shut the Germans down, but that is going to be harder than shutting down Holland or Belgium. Unless something changes, it is hard to see them scoring a goal - maybe a set piece, but that's less likely against Germany than most teams. And Messi? teams have handled him, especially in the second round. Germany should do it better than the rest. So - a good chance for a 1-0 German win, maybe they'll get 2, who knows. That's the likelier result, but Argentina is certainly capable of a win, whether through penalties, or a goal here or there. It should be a good game.