Germany, Argentina offer contrasting moods ahead of final
Ahead of the 1986 World Cup final, and the culmination of the most perfect tournament performance, journalist Hugh McIlvanney came up with the perfect description of the great event.
"Earlier days offer sudden death, but this is the only one that offers immortality."
Those are the true stakes of this game beyond the glorious trophy: the possibility of putting yourself in the eternal pantheon alongside the likes of Diego Maradona in 1986.
As a controversial figure like that proves, though, the grandiosity of the achievement does not require consistent propriety. Duly, ahead of a moment that the world has waited four years for, Argentina were in no hurry.
The clock had clicked 17 minutes past the scheduled time for their Saturday news conference in the Maracana, but there was still no sign of Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella, nor did the FIFA official know whether one of their players would be appearing.
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The game's governing body has already fined the Argentinean federation 300,000 Swiss francs for failing to put squad members up alongside the manager, and this was not the first time they had been late for a news conference. Given their attitude throughout this World Cup, it is highly doubtful as to whether they care. If they did, they might not have made it this far.
By the time Sabella did sit down with Jose Maria Basanta alongside, the Argentina coach spoke about "the spirit of rebelliousness" within the camp. It felt apt, because their campaign so far has been defined by an extraordinary ability to dig in and be resilient.
Germany, by contrast, were displaying a deep sense of relaxation, of utter composure.
"We're in top shape," Bastian Schweinsteiger declared on the eve of the final. "I just have a good feeling about tomorrow. There's huge anticipation. We have no pressure."
It is always somewhat foolhardy to read too much into the mood or words in news conferences, but the manner in which these sessions have carried out do somewhat reflect their performances so far. While Argentina have fought every step along a roughly hewn path to the final, Germany have eventually started to soar.
That was never clearer than in the Germans' sensational 7-1 semifinal victory over Brazil. It didn't just seem like a statement performance but rather the staggering peak of an entire football revolution. Back when West Germany won the European Championships in 1972, L'Equipe called it "football from the year 2000." This was football from the transformation of 2000, and the inevitable consequence of the infrastructural changes implemented across the country from the turn of the millennium.
By the time Toni Kroos volleyed the thrilling third goal past Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar without a moment's hesitation or a single flaw, it was as if they had reached that rare plane of performance where absolutely everything you do comes off.
"We have players right now who are playing at their peak," manager Joachim Low said in the Maracana. Franz Beckenbauer went even further about the win over Brazil: "That was perfection."
If Germany get anywhere close to it again, it may be impossible for Argentina to do anything about it. Low was certainly thinking along such lines, while paying due respect to Sabella's side.
"We believe if we can impose our game, we will win," he said.
The one issue with perfection is that it is virtually impossible to maintain and can create challenges of its own, and this is where the squad's mood becomes even more relevant.
Consider an elite match that is close in pattern to that German win: Chelsea's 6-0 win over Arsenal was strikingly similar, from the early whirlwind to the humiliating restraint of the second half. Chelsea's next match? An attritional 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace, where Jose Mourinho's team never got close to the same level of application.
While Germany are obviously a very different team, there is something universal about a group suffering a hangover after such a heady night. On the day before what might be the defining night of his career, however, Schweinsteiger was at least making the right noises about that semifinal.
"After the match against Brazil, we know how to put this match in proper context," he said. "Neymar was injured, Thiago Silva wasn't there, and the pressure on the Brazilian team was obvious, so there were a few things that made that match stand out. We know we have the capacity to play good football. We just have to tap into our potential."
The other side of that, though, is Argentina will do a lot more than tap Germany in the tackle. They will be physically abrasive and are as such highly unlikely to buckle like Brazil did. In that regard, the mood of "rebelliousness" perfectly reflects their approach on the pitch. They may not have yet fired beyond Lionel Messi, but they have some sense of fight, a realisation of how hard they have needed to work to get there.
Schweinsteiger came up with a perfect description when he said Javier Mascherano was "the leader of a pack of wolves."
"I remember the last minute against Holland, when he tackled [Arjen] Robben and stopped him scoring. That shows his attitude."
It is the attitude of the team. All those around the camp have been struck by how much the team has bonded, how much time they spent together, with games of table tennis -- which Sergio Aguero invariably wins -- offering a meeting point. The supporters' version of "Bad Moon Rising," meanwhile, offers a rallying call.
It all comes across on the pitch.
"The team puts their lives onto that pitch," goalkeeper Sergio Romero says. "They kill for each other."
In that context, it seems like Argentina require no extra motivation, but Sabella has been thinking of his team talk.
"I have an idea what I want to say. This is a match where you almost don't need any motivation," he said. "It's self-motivational. It's a final for the World Cup. You don't need any great motivation than that. But there's always something we can look for to bring that additional thing to assist us."
They may need it if the Germans are on form. By contrast, the Germans may need a genuine defensive plan against Messi. Low has always been a fine attacking coach, but questions remain about his defensive systems.
This prospect was put to him, of the damage Messi can do if unchecked.
"We don't have any fear whatsoever," Low said. "Regardless of what happens, it is a matter of winning. We know we can write history."
For one side, immortality awaits.
Miguel Delaney is London correspondent for ESPN and also writes for the Irish Examiner, the Independent, Blizzard and assorted others. He is the author of an award-nominated book on the Irish national team called 'Stuttgart to Saipan' (Mentor) and was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year in 2011.