Argentina will be tougher challenge for Germany
Defence has been key to Argentina's World Cup success, writes Pete Hall
SAO PAULO — Rightly touted as one of the pre-tournament favourites, Argentina’s attacking triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero was tipped to blow teams away with their finesse and myriad of talent.
However, with three 1-0 victories, as well as the scoreless draw in the semifinal with Netherlands, it is Argentina's resolute defence, rather than prolific attack that Germany will have to be wary of when the two side’s square off for the biggest prize in world football.
Five cleansheets out of seven matches so far is mightily impressive for a side not known for their rearguard prowess.
Alejandro Sabella’s men have not been behind for a single minute since making the short journey across Latin America, and have as good a chance as any of bring the German juggernaut to a grinding halt.
Robben shut down
In Sao Paulo for Wednesday's semifinal, it was not pretty, but while both teams toiled in each other’s final third, both defences shone, with Argentina’s especially looking almost unbreachable.
The ever-dynamic Arjen Robben has looked unplayable at times in this tournament, earning praise for his displays of incredible speed and athleticism.
However, the Bayern Munich forward was limited to just six touches in the opening 45 minutes.
Robin van Persie has enjoyed a new lease of life under manager Louis van Gaal, but even he made just 21 touches before being substituted.
You compare this to Javier Mascherano, who was absolutely everywhere, making 82 touches and adding comprehensive protection for his teammates.
The Barcelona star’s contribution was none more crucial than when, seemingly from an unretrievable position, he slid in to block a late Robben chance which could have snatched an unlikely victory for the Oranje.
Mascherano and his partner in defensive midfield Lucas Biglia both suffered nasty looking injuries, but soldiered on to play a crucial role for their team.
The fact the Netherlands didn’t have shot on target until the 99th minute says it all about the protection this solid duo of Mascherano and Biglia provided.
Sabella has now settled on a back-four that he can depend upon, with Martin Demichelis coming into the side, bringing his fine end-of-season club form with him.
Argentina have not conceded a goal with the Manchester City centreback and Ezequiel Garay paired together, and as the Netherlands found out, they work in unison with their midfield enforcers to devastating effect.
Germany brushed Brazil aside with an attacking display full of force and vigour.
But, coming up against such a well-oiled unit, Die Mannschaft won’t have it anything like as easy as they did in Belo Horizonte, and another tightly fought contest could be in store. Both teams will have to use all of their weapons to unlock two highly efficient backlines.