Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A World Cup Finals preview: Argentina vs. Germany

A World Cup Finals preview: Argentina vs. Germany
by rick olivares

When looking at the World Cup Finals, there are three things that immediately come to mind: one, this will be the third Argentina-Germany finals in World Cup history; two, is it really Lionel Messi versus Germany; and three, no European team has won on South American soil.

There are some nuggets of information that should provide some trivia and a look at how this finals should play out.

Before we tackle and dissect all three points, I wonder how people are making Argentina to be the underdogs in this finals match up. Is it because Germany thrashed Brazil? How can that be when Argentina is 6-0-0 in this tournament while Germany is 5-1-0?

Let that stew for a while.

Now let’s break it down.

This will be the third Argentina-Germany finals (in addition to two quarterfinals meetings).
It’s 1-1 for both sides and this is like the rubber match in the championship round. However, for the core of these two squads, Germany is 2-0 in quarterfinals play (2006 and 2010).

Here’s a little background information.

In 1986, two members of Germany’s World Cup squad played outside the Bundesliga. That was defender Hans Peter Breigel who suited up for Verona in and their team captain Karl Heinz Rummenigge who played for Inter Milan.

In contrast, seven of Argentina’s players plied their trade abroad: Diego Maradona with Napoli, Daniel Passarella who played for Fiorentina, Jorge Burruchaga who wore the Nantes colors, Jorge Valdano who was a Real Madrid talisman, Pedro Pasculi who was a forward for Lecce in Italy, midfielder Mario Trobbiani who was with Spanish side Elche, and goalkeeper Hector Zelada who played in Mexico for America.

Argentina defeated West Germany, 3-2 to win their second World Cup.

Four years later in 1990, the two countries met once more in the finals this time with the Germans coming out on top, 1-nil to win their third World Cup.

Fourteen Argentineans were now playing out of their country.

The West German team they went up against featured five players who all played in Italy while 17 played in the Bundesliga.

Andreas Brehme scored a penalty kick in the 85th minute for the matches only goal.

In 2014, only three of the 22-man Argentina team plays in the domestic league while everyone else plays abroad.

The Germans on the other hand have seven playing outside their home soil.

What does this all mean?

My theory is that while playing outside their country has greatly improved individual Argentinean players it is their greatness and experience is what helps them in international play but somewhat hurts when up against top sides due to chemistry issues.

In 2006, La Albiceleste defeated an Ivory Coast squad, 2-1, that had all their players playing outside their home soil. They also destroyed a Serbian squad that had only six home based players, 6-nil.

Against a Dutch side that had 14 home-based players, they played to a scoreless draw.

In 2006, in the Round of 16, they dispatched a Mexican side that didn’t have top quality. But when they ran into the Germans in the quarterfinals in 2006 and 2010, they were ousted.

It’s the same trend in 2010, Argentina defeated a Nigerian team, 1-0, that had all their players playing outside their country. While one can argue that the Korea and Greek teams they blasted, 4-1 and 2-0 respectively, featured mostly players who stayed home, I’d say that it’s the lack of quality players on those two teams squad. Quick, outside Park Ji-Sung who else on either team made the wires?

It’s the same for their 2014 group opponents – Bosnia, Iran, and Nigeria.

Now they are playing a more organized and largely home grown side. If you also look at Italy (notwithstanding their not advancing out of the group stages in the last two World Cups), they have a vastly improved home grown program that has a World Cup trophy from 2006 to show for.

To sum it up, when Argentina won their first World Cup in 1978 they took the world by storm. There was a new power to challenge the hegemony of Brazil, Uruguay, Germany, England, and the Netherlands. As the years went by, clubs from Europe began to sign Argentine players who also acquitted themselves well. Maradona, Valdano, Burruchaga and later on Gabriel Batistuta were snapped up. While it raised the profile of Argentinean footballers, it hurt the national side as chemistry was lacking. They played differently – a more European style of game, as opposed to the creative and frenetic pace the South Americans employed.

Then their standing internationally began to slide.

Since the 1990 World Cup appearance, they booked three quarterfinals berths, one round of 16 appearance and one forgettable stint where they never got out of the group stage.

If the fall of 2000 was the nadir for German football, the 2002 World Cup was Argentina’s version. Since then they’ve advanced to the quarterfinals twice and now the finals.

How does this relate to the upcoming World Cup finals?
Argentina has played a more pragmatic game as evidence by their approach to the Dutch. When the saw the Netherlands come out more conservatively, then they attacked first on the counter then dictating some pace. Alejandro Sabella’s men know they are up against a team where there’s utmost familiarity and organization.

Is it really Lionel Messi versus Germany?
Not at all. Some squads are just marketed that way – one talismanic player to lead them to the Promised Land. While Messi is arguably the best player in the world that doesn’t mean his team is composed of chopped liver.

But Argentina seems to be led by some football demigod at one time or another. In the 80s it was Maradona. In the 90s, Batistuta. In the first and second decade of the new millennium, it has been Messi.

Is that a factor?

Let’s back track.

In 1986, Diego Maradona scored five goals while Jorge Valdano added four and Jorge Burruchaga fired in two.

West Germany’s Rudi Voller led his side with three goals.

Argentina scored 13 goals and conceded five.
Germany scored eight and let seven find the back of the net.

In 1990, with Maradona out because of a failed drug test, Claudio Caniggia scored two while Jorge Burruchaga, Pedro Monzon, and Pedro Troglio added one score each.

On the other hand, Lothar Matthaus led Germany with four goals while Andreas Brehme, Jurgen Klinsmann, and Rudi Voller each added three.

Germany this time led the scoring parade with 15 while conceding five.

Argentina was scored five and conceded four!

In 2014, Lionel Messi has four goals to his name so far but has had little help so far. Angel di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Marcos Rojo had each scored one goal.

But with James Rodriguez out of the tourney, his six goals could be tied or better by Germany’s Thomas Muller who has five goals tallied. Andre Schurrle has added three while Mats Hummels, Miroslav Klose and Toni Kroos have scored a brace each.

Germany has scored 17 while allowing four goals for a +13.
Argentina has scored eight and allowed three for a +5.

What the previous two finals matches between the two countries has shown is the team that has scored more goals (remember Spain didn’t have the best tally in 2010) went on to win it all.

History-wise, it points to Germany but of course this will go all out of the window and have to be settled on the pitch.

And lastly, no European team has won on South American soil.
We have seen the World Cup scoring record fall (by a German) and the home team’s win streak dating back to 1975 smashed (by a German side). What is one more “record” to fall as well?

Germany has been ready for this. They are a team on a mission and their failures have served as motivation. People say they haven’t been too impressed with them (which leaves me to wonder why on earth they have been installed as top dogs if that is the case) because they haven’t played well.

Perhaps, maybe we should look at it this way…. They are peaking at the right time.

Argentina will it a little more cagey and be physical at times to unhinge the Germans. In fact, they play like Italy – more defensive. They will want press the Germans like they did to the Dutch. Except the Dutch have far fewer impact players in this World Cup. Arjen Robben is and was their best. Wesley Sneijder only had one moment. Nigel de Jong battled fitness. And in the end, there was some resentment when Louis Van Gaal opted for Tim Krul as opposed to Japser Cilissen who didn’t get the job done in the semifinals.

However, it might be more difficult to press the Germans as they have so many players capable of playing that ball forward – Mario Gotze, Mesut Ozil, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Toni Kroos.

Argentina in my opinion, is this World Cup’s sucker punch team. They hurt you either in the first 10 minutes or in the last 10.

Whoever scores first will own a massive advantage that could prove to be the decider. If it goes to penalties, it will still be Germany.

Having said all of this, it will be close.

Germany by a goal or two but it will be close.

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