Defenses set to dominate in tight cagey final

Sat Jul 12, 2014 3:56pm EDT
 
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By Mike Collett

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - It might not be the way Brazilians wanted the World Cup to end but Sunday's final between Argentina and Germany will provide a nerve-jangling climax to the best tournament in history - even though the goals that have lit it up may not flow.

While the hosts are still coming to terms with their 7-1 semi-final humiliation by Germany and are preparing for the third-place playoff against the Netherlands, Argentina and Germany are gearing up to settle old scores

According to his agent, this will be Argentine coach Alejandro Sabella's last match in charge -- win or lose -- and he will leave the job a national hero if his team triumph in the third final between the European and South American heavyweights.

But whether this match is a high-scoring thriller like their 1986 showdown in Mexico City which Argentina won 3-2, or more resembles the dire spectacle of West Germany's 1-0 1990 win in Rome is difficult to predict.

The trend in recent finals has been for tight, cagey, defensive games with narrow, low-scoring victories and those finals of 1986 and 1990 reflect the dividing line in the finals story.

The six finals up to and including 1986 produced 27 goals, the six since 1990, when Argentina became the first team to fail to score in the final, have produced nine.

And there is every indication that, paradoxically, this goal-laded World Cup -- which has produced 167 goals so far and could beat the all-time record of 171 set in France'98 -- will be won by defensive steel rather than attacking brilliance.

  Continued...

 
Argentina's national soccer team player Lionel Messi (R) heads the ball next to teammate Fernando Gago during a training session ahead of their 2014 World Cup final match against Germany in Vespasiano, July 11, 2014.   REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci