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Friday 23 February 2018

John Giles: Germany look like world beaters

Argentina are too heavily reliant on Messi while Loew’s squad tick all boxes for final

Germany goalscorer Toni Kroos celebrates with Sami Khedira after netting his side's fourth goal in the World Cup semi-final against Brazil. Photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images
Germany goalscorer Toni Kroos celebrates with Sami Khedira after netting his side's fourth goal in the World Cup semi-final against Brazil. Photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

This has been a World Cup with a soft centre. I’ve seen plenty of attacking players, a surprising amount of decent defending but very little to join the two together. Midfield has been a wasteland in Brazil.

There have been some honourable exceptions and Germany deserve great credit for mostly sticking to a script which involved passing the ball.

For that I reason, I want to see them win the final on Sunday and not my original tip for the tournament, Argentina.

I remember after South Africa four years ago that we all had great optimism about the future. Spain had just passed their way to the World Cup and they were following the path laid out by Barcelona in club football.

My fond hope at the time was that the wonderful ability shown by Xavi and Iniesta would find an echo among kids all over the world and might just slow down the inexorable march towards producing athletes rather than footballers.

I was wrong and I’m desperately disappointed to have to say it.

The World Cup finals tournament is always the best time to take a snapshot which shows the state of the game and right now, it’s not a very pretty picture.

The best football played in Brazil came in the group phase when smaller nations played with freedom and adventure and delighted us all.

As soon as we hit the knockout phase, coaches retreated behind caution and even if they had a playmaker, like Louis van Gaal, they chose a different route.

For all his cleverness, van Gaal failed in his first obligation to his team when he didn’t play his best players in their best positions against Argentina. When Holland were crying out for a man like Wesley Sneijder to get on the ball, he was operating in some kind of peculiar forward role, away from the engine room and unable to impact on play.

Argentina didn’t even have a player capable of doing what Sneijder can do and I have to say, I feel sorry for Lionel Messi, forced to carry an entire nation on his shoulders but with very few players around him capable of playing at his level.

As I said above, Germany have been one of the few to stick to principles and on that basis alone, I hope they win the final.

This is not a fantastic German team but Joachim Loew knows his players’ strengths and is not afraid to play to them.

Germany have the best midfield in the competition or it least they had when Spain were sent packing in the early stages. Jaded and beaten by an accumulation of pressure and physical commitment, they had nothing left in the well this time out.

Loew has Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger and he encourages them to get on the ball and pass.

Argentina have Messi and Higuain and a strong defence but there is nothing to link the two together and we saw that very clearly indeed in the semi-final against Holland.

We haven’t seen the best of Messi in this World Cup and I don’t blame him for that. Even great players need people around them to help out and make sure they get the ball in areas which will cause problems for the opposition.

Argentina want Messi to do it all. They want him to produce magic on demand and he’s been in that situation for many years for his country.

He could turn it on on Sunday in the Maracana and win the World Cup on his own. I have no doubt that he is capable of it but like Xavi and Iniesta before him, he has played an incredible amount of football at the very highest level and must be mentally flogged.

No, another Messi miracle seems like a step too far for Argentina and I reckon Germany will be wearing the widest grins on Sunday evening in Rio.

The Herald

Online Editors

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