Apart from Bayern Munich, who cheat by having almost the entire German national team, I’m pretty sure Chelsea had the highest number of players in the quarter final stage of the World Cup, out of any of Europe’s top sides. With the exception of our Spanish duo (now quartet), Gary Cahill, and the Nigerian players, having every first team player reach the final eight, I think represents a solid all-round showing. Pre-season training with the entire squad together might not start as early as we’d like, but having seen so many Chelsea players do so well has only to helped to make an already fascinating and grippingly entertaining tournament, even more enjoyable to watch – and that’s something to be very appreciative of.
Now however, with the final just a day away, only one Chelsea player remains, Germany’s Andre Schurrle. Over the course of the past month, Joachim Low’s squad have proven themselves to be by far the most talented, disciplined and cohesive team in the competition; few would contest at this point they would be the most worthy winners. I suppose one of the key aspects behind the impressiveness of the German’s is how they manage to coalesce the qualities of the two very different profiles of star players, of which their squad is comprised. Manuel Neuer, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm all simply ooze quality and class in everything thing they do and collectively make up a spine of a team worthy of World Cup glory. And then there are other members of the squad such as Schurrle, Thomas Muller and Miroslav Klose, who technically are not in the same league as their aforementioned colleagues, but who all possess the remarkable ability to elevate their games to extraordinary levels in big moments and lead the line with a level of composure and iciness in front of goal that almost invariably leads to solid, often decisive contributions.
Schurrle might not be on the same level as Muller or Klose in terms of goal scoring ability but he shares the same quality which makes them great players. He plays with a directness and level of composure which, if you’re being totally honest, doesn’t exactly match his overall technical ability. It’ll be extremely interesting to see how of often he’ll start games for Chelsea next season. Though he isn’t the type of player to dominate games, pick apart tough defences or the lead the line as the key creative fulcrum, what he will surely do is score goals, shit loads of them – certainly more than Willian, Oscar or even Cesc Fabregas are likely to manage.
Ultimately it’s a good thing to have a selection of players to choose from, each with different attributes, and most likely I think we’ll see Schurrle in his fair share of matches where Chelsea will be given opportunities to counter attack, meaning the majority of his appearances will be in away games. Eventually Chelsea will have to decide what they want from Schurrle long term though; whether they’ll risk making him a permanent fixture, lowering the overall quality of the XI but reaping 20 or so goals a year, or whether they’re happy for him to remain more of a periphery figure – like a more talented/potent Saloman Kalou. For next year at least, I predict it’ll be the latter.
World Cup Final Preview
The obvious tag line for the final is that it will pit the best international team in the world against the team with the greatest player in the world. Both Messi and the stars of the German team know that they’ll never get a better opportunity to round off the legacies of their playing careers than on Sunday. Both outcomes I think would be interesting ones.
For the first time in history, the Germans are heading into a World Cup final with a huge amount of neutral support. After almost a decade of reinvention they look to have finally shaken the reputation they acquired during the second half of the 20th century as a sporting nation founded on principles of ruthlessness, efficiency and organisation. Low’s men are now the most exciting team in the world to watch, both when they are counter attacking and dominating possession.
As Frederick Studemann pointed in the FT yesterday, each German World Cup win has marked an era in the country’s history: in “1954, when the outlaw nation began to claw its way back to international acceptance; 1974, the flush of the Wirtschaftswunder generation who had escaped war; 1990, the economic powerhouse on course for reunification. The Germany of 2014 is the pre-eminent power of Europe (for now)”. As he also pointed out, the only thing missing from this revolutionary generation of talent is silverware, and it’s this inability to finish that, more than anything, might have made them so likeable. Tomorrow would undoubtedly be the most popular World Cup win in the country’s history.
As for Argentina, they’ve been the complete opposite of Germany throughout this tournament. While their opponents started out relatively cautious, trying to dominate possession and eventually became more adventurous and direct, Alex Sabella’s men have gradually become more conservative and will start the final with a defensive midfield three of Lucas Biglia, Javier Maschernao and Enzo Perez. After three boring knockout round ties, they may have lost quite a few neutral supporters along the way. Several people have made the observation that Sabella would be the least charismatic coach ever to win the competition. His chopping and changing of the XI has shown a real lack of conviction in his ideas; his ignoring of Ezequiel Lavezzi squirting water over his head shows his standing in the dressing room can’t particularly high either. Several Argentinean players would be odd winners also. Sergio Romero would be the worst goalkeeper to win the trophy for a very long time, Marcos Rojo, Lucas Biglia and Federico Fernandez in particular would struggle to get into most other major leading national teams (maybe even England!).
But this is by no means a one man team, Pablo Zabaleta and Javier Mascherano have both also had fine tournaments, but as a collective this is not an offensively inspirational group of players, and it places a heavy burden on Messi to create and take its chances. Germany’s midfield trio may not be the best equipped to deal with the Barcelona star however; Schweinsteiger isn’t the quickest player to be man-marking Messi, meaning there’ll be a big emphasis on Kroos and Khedira to prevent any quality service coming into him. Argentina certainly have the bigger problems to solve defensively, but they’ve proven themselves capable of shutting out talented attacking front lines and of holding on to single goal leads. He might be limited in chances but on the biggest stage of his career, it’s impossible to imagine him not finding opportunities while only a fool would bet against him taking them.
The obvious historical comparison to make is on the 1986 final where Diego Maradona led Argentina to victory over a superior West German side but I think there’s a more interesting parallel to be drawn to the 1974 final. As it was with Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff, so it will be on Sunday with the best defender (and possibly the best midfielder) in the world in Lahm shaking hands with the game’s most ingenious attacking talent. It’s even Bayern v Barcelona, as it was in 1974. This time though, lovers of great football will be cheering on the Germans while the Argentines will look to scrap their way to victory. For four years I’ve thought this would be Messi’s moment, now I think an Argentine win would be a huge upset, I can’t wait to see happens