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There can only be one winner. EPA/Kamil Krzaczynski/Mohamed Messara

Germany v Argentina … who will raise the 2014 World Cup?

After four weeks, we’re finally at the pointy end of the 2014 World Cup. Germany and Argentina meet in the final in the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro this weekend.

Germany is riding high after thrashing Brazil 7-1, while Argentina scraped through to the final on penalties.

Germany came into the tournament ranked second in the FIFA rankings, three positions higher than Argentina. And in the world football Elo ratings, Germany was ranked third, one higher than Argentina.

Despite this, it would seem Argentina has a home (or at least, continent) advantage. No European team has won a World Cup in South America in four attempts (the last opportunity was in 1978).

So let’s compare the two teams and weigh up the data: who’s likely to triumph on Sunday?

World Cup finals experience

Germany has won three of its eight World Cup finals (1954, 1974, 1990) and Argentina two of its five (1978, 1986).

The teams have met 15 times prior to this final. Argentina has won nine times, Germany six.

They’re most recent meeting was in the 2010 World Cup when Germany defeated Argentina 4-0 in the quarter final.

Highlights from their 2010 match.

They have played each other in two World Cup finals:

  • Argentina won 3-2 in 1986 in Mexico
  • Germany won four years later in Italy, 1-0. Argentina ended that final with just nine players after Pedro Monzon and Gustavo Dezotti became the first players to be sent off in a World Cup final. It was the first time too a team had not scored in a World Cup final.

Performance at this World Cup

Germany is the leading goalscorer at this World Cup with 17 goals to Argentina’s eight. Some 14 of Germany’s goals were scored from open play.

Germany started this World Cup with a comprehensive 4-0 defeat of Portugal and its 7-1 victory in the semi-final against Brazil was a record-breaking performance. Thomas Mueller is Germany’s leading goalscorer with five goals.

Germany scored goals in the first 20 minutes of games against Portugal, France and Brazil. Argentina scored two of the earliest goals in this World Cup (v Bosnia and Herzegovina, and v Nigeria).

German striker Miroslav Klose set a new record for goals scored in World Cups. In this World Cup, his fourth, his 23rd minute goal against Brazil was his 16th World Cup goal.

Now on to Argentina: Lionel Messi scored four of Argentina’s eight goals, and three of the team’s goals were scored against Nigeria in their final group game. Argentina has conceded fewer fouls than all their opponents in their six games. Germany has conceded fewer fouls than opponents in four games but conceded 33 fouls in the game against France. Finally, Argentina has not conceded a goal in the knockout stage of the World Cup. Talking tactical issues Two factors that might influence how Argentina deals with Germany’s ability to score goals in open play are: how quickly the team recovers from the physical demands the 127 minutes of play in the semi-final against the Netherlands the emotions elicited in the ensuing penalty shoot out. This game took place a day after Germany’s 93-minute demolition of Brazil in which the German coach was able to substitute and rest key players. Seven Argentinian outfielders covered more than 10km in their semi-final against the Netherlands. Lucas Biglia covered 15km during that game. Lucas Biglia trotting along, controlling the ball, next to the Netherlands’ Wwesley Sneijder during their semi final match earlier this week. EPA/Srdjan Suki A day earlier, despite the short duration of their game against Brazil, eight German outfield players covered more than 10km. Bastian Schweinsteiger led the distance covered with his 12.61km. Both Germany and Argentina have used one goalkeeper for their respective games. Germany’s six games have lasted a total of 601 minutes and 20 seconds. Two of their outfield players, Benedikt Hoewedes and Philipp Lahm played all this time. Toni Kroos has played 599 minutes. Three outfield Argentinian players have been ever-present in their six games: Ezequiel Garay, Pablo Zabaleta and Javier Mascherano. Philipp Lahm and Javier Mascherano share the lead in passing accuracy in this World Cup. FIFA data suggest that both of them have an 87% completion rate for their passes. Both players have significant leadership roles for their teams. German captain Philipp Lahm. EPA/Fernando Bizerra Jr In this World Cup final, a free-flowing German team able to score goals in open play through a variety of players will meet one of the most miserly defences on the tournament. The last time they met in a final (1990), Argentina was indisciplined and had two players sent off. Germany will have to deal with the threats posed by Lionel Messi and the impact Javier Mascherano might have on the game. There is a discrepancy in the international experience of the teams. Germany’s team that started against Brazil had a total of 730 international caps with three players (Bastian Scweinsteiger, Miroslav Klose and Philipp Lahm) having played in more than 100 games each. Argentina’s team against Brazil had 470 international caps, and only Javier Mascherano has appeared in more than 100 games for Argentina. And the winner is … ? All the performance data point to a Germany win this World Cup final. At this point in the tournament, it is how each team has managed their fatigue and injuries that will determine their readiness to perform. It is a long time since the last opportunity for a European team to win the World Cup in South America. The world game of football has changed significantly in the intervening years. One of the changes has been the use of sport informatics in analysing performance. Germany has a very sophisticated approach to this analysis that could identify weaknesses in Argentina’s pattern of play, as it appeared to do against Brazil. On the other hand, a team with less experience and more playing time could use the energy generated by playing a final on their home continent. To win, Argentina will have to continue its highly disciplined defence and create sufficient opportunities for Lionel Messi to overtake Thomas Mueller to win the Golden Boot and the World Cup.

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