SAO PAULO -- Five storylines ahead of Germany and Argentina's battle for the World Cup (Sunday, 3 ET, ABC and WatchESPN):
Germany vs. Argentina: the decider?
Sunday will mark the first time that two countries have met in the final three times. So far, they are all square: West Germany, as it was then, got revenge in 1990 in Rome for the defeat they suffered in Mexico City to a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina four years earlier.
Ghosts of the past will linger, and there is much respect between the legends. Maradona, for example, called Lothar Matthaus, the leader of Italia '90, "the best rival I've ever had." The unbridled joy of 1986 was converted to tears in Italy as the world saw an ugly brute of an Argentinian team have two men sent off and Maradona globally derided for his failure in his adopted home. The memories of theatrical falls from Jurgen Klinsmann, Rudi Voller and the disputed penalty, which Andreas Brehme converted to clinch the trophy, will resurface.
Familiar foes will meet, but who can emulate the heroes of those days gone by?
Can a European team win in South America?
This tournament was preceded by heavy talk of it being impossible for a European team to win it all in Brazil. Weather conditions and the unfamiliarity of surroundings were all expected to upend Europe's best. Germany have belied such talk, having survived trips to Salvador, Fortaleza and Recife in the north and then, in the more welcoming climes of Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, held off the French and pummeled the hosts in the most humiliating World Cup match of all time.
European teams lost in the finals of both 1962 and 1978. Czechoslovakia were well beaten in Chile by Brazil but the Dutch were denied victory in Argentina by the width of a post after Rob Rensenbrink's shot sailed wide in the last minute. Back then, traveling to South America was far tougher. Here, the Germans, with their purpose-built training base in Bahia, have created a home from home. They look, if performances at this tournament are to count for anything, to have the capability of burying history.
The Messi-Maradona narrative
Lionel Messi looked lost in the Sao Paulo semifinal. He struggled badly to free himself from Louis Van Gaal's tactics and, when he did, the final pass was lacking. Messi has in no way matched the incendiary best with which Maradona dominated Mexico in 1986. In fact, his performances in Brazil more closely resemble that of his former coach in 1990.
Then Maradona, limping from the harsh treatment he received from Serie A defenders while a Napoli player, could only contribute fitfully. In 1986, Jorge Burruchaga scored the winner from a Maradona pass similar to that provided by Messi to Angel Di Maria against Switzerland. However, the Maracana must see Messi make a considerable step-up if he is to come close to his country's previous king's World Cup heroics. A goal would help; Maradona never actually scored in either of his two finals.
Have Germany become their old selves?
Back when the Germans got to three successive finals -- from 1982 to 1990 -- they were known as the team who won, no matter the flow of their matches. They were ruthless and utterly efficient when they wanted to be.
The accusation against this Joachim Low-coached side was that it lacked those characteristics. The lack of a killer instinct had cost it in 2010 and at the 2008 and 2012 European championships but it looks to have been revived in Brazil.
Recent years' attempts to marry traditional German qualities to a more refined passing game reached their apotheosis in Belo Horizonte. The overhaul of the German youth system of more than a decade ago still needs to deliver a trophy, though.
Can Brazil's nightmare be averted?
Louis van Gaal's postmatch verdict on Wednesday -- that the third-place match in Brasilia was pointless -- did not provide much comfort for the fallen hosts. Winning against the disinterested Dutch will be even less consolation if the nightmare of Argentina winning in the Maracana a day later does actually occur.
If one record is unlikely to be played on Brazilian radio after this tournament it is Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising," appropriated by traveling Argentine fans into a song of torment. "How does it feel to have your daddy in the house?" as it translates, has been heard wherever La Albiceleste have played. And it is beginning to sting.
Brazilians are all German now, just as they were Dutch in the Sao Paulo semifinal. Denial of Argentina would be just about sweet enough to cope with the searing pain of Luiz Felipe Scolari's failure.