The German National Football Team is supposed to defeat Argentina in Sunday’s 2014 World Cup Final, handily. It’s all but scripture. The Germans have been thoroughly praised for the quality of their performances, especially after their inhumane thrashing of Brazil. The 7-1, victory over the host country did much to convince pundits across the globe that the Deutsch will hoist this year’s World Cup trophy. Some may even dare to say that the game is a mere formality for Germany. They could be right.
After all, in terms of individual talent, the Germans are at the top looking down. They are at the apex of their “Golden Generation,” a football generation just short of being genetically modified to end Germany’s trophy-less drought. They are a group of ridiculously talented young men that have come-of-age together, nurtured and looked after by a country desperate for football success. Now, all of Germany looks to reap the benefits of their collective investment, and a trophy is all they demand. It has been a while.
Being referred to as the Golden Generation isn’t always a term of endearment. Just ask Portugal. After winning consecutive World Youth Championships in 1989 and 1991, success for this group seemed limitless. The team was laden with talent, fielding many of the best players of the 90’s, including Luis Figo, Rui Costa, and Jorge Costa, names to be reckoned with in the European soccer world. But in 2004, after reaching the final of the European Cup, Portugal was humiliated by the darkest of horses in Greece. Portugal has not been in any kind of final since.
England is another fable of sorts. The English assembled a football boy band comprised of English Premiere League players doing very well for their respective clubs at the time. David Beckham was the face of the team, followed by Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and a kid named Wayne Rooney. They, too, possessed an abundance of talent. However, club success for these players did not translate into national team success. In fact, England did not qualify for the last European Cup, a blasphemous gesture and end to a highly regarded English football era that produced very little for which to be proud.
The Ivory Coast and the Netherlands are still two more examples of talented teams falling short of expectations. Les Éléphants featured Didier Drogba, Emmanuel Eboue and the Toure brothers. There was even talk that an African nation would finally find success at the highest level. However, after failing to dominate the Africa Cup of Nations, and being knocked out of the group stages at Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010, the Ivory Coast’s hourglass was left to its last grains of sand, falling to the curse of the Golden Generation.
The Netherlands has the dubious distinction of experiencing multiple Golden Generations. In the 80’s, as apt students of the Ajax School of Football, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert, and the De Boer’s, were hailed as Dutch football’s saviors. In the end, their success was barely modest. A fourth place finish in France 1998, was the best this group could do. Eventually, most of these players stepped aside to make room for Holland’s new wave of talent.
A few days ago, in the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup, the Dutch fielded the remnants of another relatively young and highly talented team, a team led by legendary Dutchman Louis van Gaal, a disciple himself of the Ajax School. Van Gaal and his group reached this point in the competition with seemingly more luck than talent. Nevertheless, Holland were a few penalty misses away from nearly reaching consecutive World Cup Finals, the last in 2010. Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Ron Vlaar, and Klaas jan Huntelaar, highly successful club players, fought for 120 valiant minutes, but the Oranje finally bowed out of the cup, falling to Argentina.
Now, all this isn’t to say that Germany will suffer the fates of past Golden Generations. For their part, the Deutsch have already enjoyed a great deal of football success, last winning the World Cup in Italy 1990, and the they reached the semi-finals when they hosted the tournament in 2006, and again in South Africa 2010. No, this is just to say that the German team playing in this Sunday’s Final fits the full description of a Golden Generation, and expectations are at a maximum.
Bundestrainer Joachim Löw is armed with players who have been battle-hardened at the highest levels of club and international play. Philipp Lahm, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels, Mario Götze, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski, Toni Kroos, Jérôme Boateng, and Miroslav Klose—the names alone are enough to cause panic. They will rely on goalkeeper Manuel Neuer as their last line of defense. Neuer is arguably the best keeper in all of football, and he’s been spectacular in this year’s competition. It’s either now or never for Löw, as his pot of gold runneth over.
Meanwhile, Argentina will field, on average, the oldest team in the competition. Call them the Onyx Generation or the Silver Generation or even the Blue Topaz Generation. Call them what you will. What you can’t call them is lucky or inexperienced.
The proud La Albiceleste bulled their way into the final backed by three stellar defensive performances. It has been more than 300 minutes since the Argentine defense has allowed a goal in this 2014 World Cup competition. Nigeria put two past them in the group stage, which now seems quite distant.
It’s been a while since Argentina has tasted from the Cup. In 1978, the last time the World Cup was held in South America, in Argentina to be exact, La Albiceleste was triumphant. Eight years later, in 1986, Argentina again lifted the trophy, this time in Mexico. However, in the years that have followed, the furthest Argentina has ventured in the competition are the quarterfinals, three times.
Like Germany, it may be now or never for Argentina. Their key players, Pablo Zabaleta, Javier Mascherano, Maxi Rodriguez, Gonzalo Higuain, and Ezekiel Lavezzi, are getting slightly long in the tooth. They still have Kun Aguero and a young Enzo Perez, who, by the way, was superb in place of injured Angel Di Maria.
Of course, no discussion can be considered legitimate unless Lionel Messi’s name is mentioned. You’d have to be brain dead to not know of him. He is considered the greatest player on Earth, drawing tireless comparisons to Diego Maradona for his speed, agility, size, and overall fooball brilliance. The only other Argentinian perhaps more beloved than Messi is Papa Francisco, or Pope Francis, and even this is debatable. As the German nation urges their team to victory on Sunday, so too will Argentina, with Messi carrying much of the responsibility. If there is any player that can withstand this burden, it is he.
Sunday’s Final is as intriguing as a football match can get. The precise, mechanical, and near perfect German side will not deviate from a formula that has proven successful. Argentina, on the other hand, will rely on their physical play, their experience, and their Messi. I side with experience.
In most of life’s ventures, experience is priceless. Argentina has the experience. They have the talent. They have the will. They have home field advantage. In the end, Argentina will prove just a bit too much for Germany. Look for Messi to have the greatest game of his illustrious career, as La Albicelest once again, call South America their continent.
For the Germans, all that glitters will not be gold.