Sunday, September 07, 2014

Deschamps turns over his roster - France head to Serbia to kick off their Euro "qualifiers."

France have a quick turn around, after defeating Spain in Paris, they will head East to face Serbia in "qualifiers." Since France is guaranteed a spot in the next Euros...they are the hosts...they are in Group I of qualifiers. This set up allows them to navigate the next two years under the guise of playing qualifiers - ensuring matches and hopefully simulating a real qualifying campaign.

This should be a good test for Les Bleus. They will be heading into a hostile environment against a team with legitimate aspirations to qualify directly to the Euros. With the rapid turn around it is evident that DD will look to rotate some of his roster. From all indications that will be the case.

Only Lloris, Pogba, Sissoko and Varane appear ready to keep their starting roles. I even question why Lloris needs to get another game when Mandanda could use the time to get rid of some international rust...

The apparent changes will give some time to the likes of Cabella, Mathieu and Scheiderlin. Players who have much to gain from these matches if they hope to go to the Euros. It appears that DD will go back to his 4-3-3 with the following line up -

France : Lloris (cap.) - Sagna, Varane, Mathieu, Digne - Schneiderlin, Cabaye, Pogba - Sissoko, Rémy, Cabella

A better freelancer or pinned to a wing?
Mathieu at center back is an interesting twist. Not really known to play that role, what will the Barcelona man bring to the table? And does DD really see him as an option to play center back? After coming off the bench it appears we will see Cabaye back in his starting role - patrolling the space in front of the back 4. Scheiderlin will be getting his second start for France and should be given some greater chances to show what he can do on the creative side, looking to shoulder Pogba in launching the French offense. Up front we will have a very piece meal trio, without a true center forward, and once again a non traditional right winger. I see Cabella as a more natural central midfielder, pulling the strings from the center of the park. Could the formation morph into something of a bastardized 4-4-2? With Sissoko dropping deeper and Cabella and Remy interchanging at the top of the formation? There is no real target #9 in this formation, so look for any offense to have to be created by the collective effort and with the three midfielders to jump up into the offensive end.

It will be interesting to see how Les Bleus react after having played on Thursday. It is a quick turn around in a very hostile environment....

I smell a drab 1-1 draw.

Allez Les Bleus!!!!!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

France successfully navigate first day back in international season - defeat defending Euro champs

Feels like the World Cup finals were yesterday...and we are already back in the swing of the international football schedule. France and Spain headlined a decent roster of matches including Argentina v Germany and Italy v Holland. While the match ups, on paper, were mouth watering, the resulting games were, as expected, were a tad drab. So what to make of France's 1-0 win over Spain?

The Good:
  • France continue their positive rebuilding. After falling 1-0 to the eventual World Cup Champions Germany at the 1/4 stage of the World Cup, France got back on the winning track. France will be hosting the Euros in 2 years. Due to this automatic qualification, France will not have real competitive games for the next two years. Match ups against the likes of Spain go a long way to keeping France's development on track.
  • Pogba growing into the role as the boss of the midfield...and team. The Juventus midfielder has already captained the French U20 side to the U20 World Cup victory a few years back. He also became an integral part of DD's set up at the World Cup - even chipping in a crucial goal against Nigeria in the knock out stage. He is putting his stamp on the midfield as the box-to-box midfielder Les Bleus have been seeking since Vieira retired. M'Vila was seen as that player, but his career has taken a side step. Although with M'Vila back from exile in the East it might be an interesting combination if he rediscovers his form.
  • Le Petit Velo - Valbuena - remains the metronome for Les Bleus. He is the creative fulcrum for France. It was his vision and play that was at the center of the goal from Remy. With Ribery's
    Remy benefits from Valbuena's creativity
    retirement from international football, the only truly creative player France have is Valbuena. Players of the likes of Cabella offer that creativity as well, but he is still a few games away from elevating his game to the international level. France's success over the next 2 years and how well they do at home in the Euros will hinge on how well Valbuena's creative play drives the midfield. Which calls into question why he was taken off the field in the 1/4 finals against Germany when France was chasing the game late on...
  • Sissoko playing out on the right. The Newcastle man is more of a traditional box-to-box or deep lying midfielder. However since he was put out on the the right by DD in World Cup qualifiers...away to Spain...he seems to have found a role with the national team. He is not a traditional right winger like a Menez or even a Remy, but his power and pace bring something the French national team have not had out on that side. He also seems more willing to stay out on the right allowing for Les Bleus to keep their shape. Since he is more of a deep lying player, he doesn't shy away from his responsibilities to back track defensively. 
The Bad:
  • For once the left side looked a little dodgy. Griezmann had a rather pedestrian game on the left side. This was a bit disappointing after his good showing at the World Cup. Of course one cannot judge the player from 60 minutes. Long term I am not concerned about the left side with regards to Griezmann. But there will clearly be some growing pains for the French left side after the international retirement from Ribery. It is to be expected when you lose a world class player like Ribery.
  • I am a little concerned with the fact that some of DD's main cogs are not full time starters on their club sides - in particular Sakho and Varane. Neither has maintained regular starting roles for Liverpool and Real Madrid. Something to watch for in their club play. Reality is not sure what DD's other options at center backs since the likes of Mangala, Zouma and Yanga-Mbiwa are not regular starters for their clubs either. The one regular starter is Kos...and even his role looked a little tenuous with the start of Chambers recently for Arsenal! Something to watch for moving forward.
 The Ugly:
  • Speaking of the left side - I think seeing Evra continue might get a tad ugly. Unlike the Gooner who is clearly "anti-Evra," I am not entirely negative on the Juventus left back. But I do
    Has his time passed?
    recognize that he is well past his prime. And that will not get any better in 2 years time. While the player doesn't seem to want to retire from international play, I question what DD gets from continuing to play him on French left. France have some options out on the left - Digne being first in line. There is also Kurzawa from AS Monaco as well as Mathieu from Barcelona who are options for that left side. I will be shocked if Evra is the starting left back in 2 years time for France...having said that, it might be time for Deschamps to start integrating a new starting left back now. Allow the new left back to integrate with the likes of Griezmann.
One cannot take too much from this game, granted the win was nice. Deschamps started out in a 4-2-3-1 but it was really more of a 4-3-2-1 with Sissoko on the right but more in line with Pogba and Matuidi, Valbuena given more free reign with Griezmann and Benzema as the high line striker. Similar to the World Cup, this is Deschamps' best formation - allowing him to put as many of his best midfielders on the pitch. It will be interesting to watch how this evolves especially when it comes to Cabaye and how he fits in the midfield. He has had a difficult time securing regular first team action with PSG (wonder if he wishes he was still at Newcastle...or maybe Arsenal) but he was a vital part of DD's set up in Brazil. Moving forward will he regain this role with France? Or become a super sub? Not necessarily a bad problem for DD to have - but probably not the role Cabaye desires.

France will not embark on a number of friendlies as they act as the 6th team in Group I - they will play a schedule as if they were in the qualification process but obviously the results will not count for either France or the team they play. I think this is one of the smarter ideas from UEFA - guarantees the host some games, and pits them against a qualification group guaranteeing they get matches against top nations such as Portugal.

What to watch moving forward:
  • Who asserts themselves as the left fullback for Les Bleus?
  • Is there a viable back up to Benzema up front?
  • Will Griezmann put his stamp on the left winger role?
  • How will DD manage his apparent log jam in the midfield, especially if someone of the likes of M'Vila regains his form?
Should make for an interesting 2 years of preparation for the Euros.
Allez les Bleus!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Post World Cup roster looks eerily like the one from Brazil - Deschamps releases his list.

Yup, international friendlies and European Cup qualifiers are about to start up again. Get ready for whining for the clubs and some new international careers being launched. The first round of internationals are always interesting after a World Cup. How much will rosters change? In the case of Les Bleus...not much at all.

Deschamps is going with many of the players that got his side to a 1/4 final in Brazil. We knew ahead of the time that Abidal, Ladreau, Nasri and Ribery would not be included since they have all retired from international football. So the list:

Gardiens : Mandanda, Lloris, Ruffier
Défenseurs : Debuchy, Digne, Evra, Koscielny, Mangala, Sagna, Sakho, Varane
Milieux : Cabaye, Matuidi, Mavuba, Pogba, Schneiderlin, Sissoko
Attaquants : Benzema, Cabella, Griezmann, Lacazette, Rémy, Valbuena

Any major surprises? Not really. The one that is a small surprise to me is the inclusion of Evra. The former Manchester United skipper and current Juventus left back did not officially retire from international football, but it felt as if the World Cup would be his last kick at the
What? The retirement home is that way?
can when it came to international silverware. As the Gooner so willingly pointed out, Evra looked past his prime in Brazil. What would he look like in 2 years time at the Euros?? With Digne poised to become the next French left back as well as AS Monaco left back Kurzawa waiting in the wings I do not see Evra keeping a place on the roster. Of course this could be Deschamps giving Patrice his due and one more cap - France will be playing Spain on Sept 4th in Paris, a nice game to end your international career on. 

One name I thought we might see is the one of Ben Yedder. The TFC striker has been someone that is on the cusp of making it to the senior side, were it not for his joining with the likes of M'Vila and Griezmann in their ill fated night club run which lead to a suspension, he might already have received a cap. France, not a news bulletin, is thin up front. With the injury to Giroud that is either a blessing or a curse. Deschamps has the opportunity now to call up and see a number of striker options. Ben Yedder being one of them, M'Baye Niang another such player. While the Euros are still 2 years away, these matches are precious and need to be used to test some of these options.

See you in a week for the start of the international season...I know the Gooner is thrilled.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Merci Kaiser Franck - Ribery retires from national team

Les Bleus will no longer see their world class #7 on the left wing any more. Ribery announced today that he will no longer play for the French national team. This comes as a slight surprise since he had to back out of the World Cup due to injury and the next major tournament will be held in France. Ribery would have been 33 for the next Euros, certainly not an advanced age.

Ribery stated that he came to this decision to spend more time with his family as well as concentrate on his career with Bayern Munich. For Ribery, his international career will be viewed as a good one, yet one that did not live up to what could have been. He was first called up in 2006, then a youngster in France. He was looked at as one of France's up and coming players, but what he would bring to the table was not known. It was more of a selection of a player to get him into the squad, blood him for later tournaments. Instead he played a vital role for Les Bleus in their run to the finals. It was Ribery that scored the still haunted the Bayern winger a year ago! Finally the 2012 Euros saw a French team finally get out of the group stages, but lose timidly against the Spanish Armada.
His best moment for Les Bleus?
equalizer against Spain. His pace out wide opened up lanes for the other French players, most notably Zidane. Unfortunately for the Kaiser, that might have been the highest of his international career. 2010 saw France crash out of the Euros with a grand total of 1 point. We all know what happened at the World Cup in South Africa. While many point to Evra as the ring leader of the mutiny, I think Ribery had much more to do with that fiasco than was reported. There was also a lot of controversy surrounding Ribery and how he treated his teammates, most notably how he interacted with Gourcuff. Something that

In none of these tournaments did Ribery truly shine or live up to his potentially - like he showed for Bayern Munich when he came close to winning the Ballon D'Or. So we close the chapter on Kaiser Franck and the French national team. Following on the heels of Nasri announcing the same, Deschamps loses another player that he can select. But like Nasri, this might be a blessing in disguise. Ribery has shown signs of breaking down - see his missing the last World Cup due to injury. He would be 33 at the next Euro. Again not over the hill, but maybe a little long in the tooth, especially considering that there appears to be an heir to the left side of the formation - Griezmann. DD can now focus on allowing his new left winger to develop and establish himself in the role. It was a joy watching Ribery bombing down the left side for Les Bleus. Alas it did not all come together for him and the national team at the right time.

Better to retire a year too early than hang on a year too late.

Merci Kaiser Franck.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Nasri no longer in the blue for France - a complicated and wasted talent

Rumors are abound that Samir Nasri will soon announce his retirement from international football. No surprise. The current Manchester City midfielder has had a love - hate relationship with the French national team. Really more of a hate and tempestuous
The Lost Boys
relationship. Nasri is part of the French class of '87 - a collection of players born in 1987 who won the U-17 Euros for France. This class included the likes of Benzema, Ben Arfa, Menez and Matuidi (Matuidi did not make the U17 squad, but is part of the 1987 generation) in addition to Nasri.  Not a bad collection of talent. But Nasri is a perfect example for this generation - world class talent, but failure to live up to lofty expectations.

Nasri first broke onto the senior international scene when Domenech in March of 2007 against Austria. He was a key catalyst to get France qualified for the Euros in 2008. He infused a new level of youth and offensive panache France needed with the retirement of Zidane. I remember him playing a vital role in a win over Ukraine. Nasri would then find his way to the Euros in 2008. One of the two Euro tournaments Nasri would play. And one of two tournaments where his off field antics would be far more memorable than what he did on the pitch. Most notably in 2008 was his apparent lack of respect paid to French veterans such as Henry and Gallas. The fact that Gallas would refuse to shake Nasri's hand in the Premiership speaks of the riff between the two. Granted, some of this childish behavior is not one sided. Nasri would miss the 2010 World Cup - something that was probably to his benefit, then again he would have fit right in with that dysfunctional squad. Laurent Blanc would call up the mercurial midfielder once he took over the reigns. Inserting him into the heart of his formation that would take on the 2012 Euros.

Once again Nasri was more remembered for his antics than his dribbles. Scoring the equalizer against his Manchester City team mate - Joe Hart - Nasri then went on a little
Ah least you choose the correct finger
celebratory run and made a motion to the press corp to "shut the f*** up." This gave Blanc a "fun" challenge of spin control rather than focusing on the sporting side of the tournament. France would eventually crash out in the 1/4 finals to the eventual champion Spain.

Most recently Nasri was left off Deschamps' World Cup squad, which created a minor controversy. Mostly with former France captain Vieira as well as Nasri's girlfriend! But who can really blame Deschamps choice? Nasri was not a lock to be a starter in DD's 4-3-3 formation. Even had DD used a 4-2-3-1 formation, there was no guarantee that Nasri was a lock to start. This did not sit well with the Samir. And he made this very know to anyone that would listen. Of course he would qualify his outcries by stating "any player worth their salt would want to start." True. But any national side will invariable have club stars who are not starters. Alas, Nasri's ego would not allow him to play nice in the sandbox. But his play on the field didn't make him indispensable either. Such is the story of the '87 players. Le Petit Prince - Ben Arfa has always had bags of raw talent but cannot seem to put it all together consistently. Same for Menez and one might even argue Benzema who has not lived up to the flashes of brilliance he teases us with.

So Samir appears ready to ride off into the sunset. Merci for the 41 caps you won for your nation. But you only have yourself to blame for not being a mainstay for Les Bleus.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

World Cup hang over - looking back at Brazil 2014

It has been a week since Germany was crowned as World Cup champions, adding a fourth star to their kit. Since that game we have had a overwhelming number of pieces about the World Cup, so it was time for the Frog to chime in as well.

The all tournament team using a 4-2-3-1 formation:
  • Goalkeeper - Neuer Germany. I can hear it now, "what about Howard!" from my USMNT fans. Yes Howard gave us a super human performance against Belgium. But he didn't win the game. Neuer on the other hand gave a superb performance versus Algeria as well as against France and Argentina. And he won the title. He should have
    A better sweeper than Luiz
    won the golden ball as well, more on that later.
  • Left Back - Vertonghen Belgium. I can just feel the Gooner cringing right now. But looking at what the Tottenham defender did for Belgium during this World Cup elevates him to this position. He was a constant threat for the Red Devils bombing down the left flank. He also chipped in the winning goal against South Korea. Without his efforts on the left side for Belgium, the shocking performance by Hazard on that side would have been even more glaring. 
  • Right Back - Lahm Germany. Shocking that Low stubbornly insisted on playing the Bayern man in the midfield. Were it not for some line up juggling in the beginning of the knock outs, we may never have seen Lahm back at his best position. Playing down the right side, Lahm gave Germany pace and width down the right side. He was constantly offering dangerous crosses from the flank. This also freed up some space for Ozil. Again, shocking that Low was forced to line him up in his natural position.
  • Center Back - Hummels Germany.  The powerful central defender was a rock for the German back line. Chipping in vital goals as well. With Low asking his defense to play a very high line also forced the Hummels to be solid with his organization of the defense.
  • Center Back - Vlaar Holland. The powerful Dutch center back was a rock playing for the Van Gaal's back 3. Playing with two wing backs, much of the defensive pressure fell on the shoulders of the back three defenders. In the middle of that was Vlaar. The Dutch defense were worthy of their 3rd place finish, giving up only one goal in the knock out stage. Their central defender has a lot to do with that result.
  • Holding Midfielder - Mascherano Argentina. The Argentine pitbull lived up to his reputation. He was the rock that protected the Argentina back 4. His work rate constitently sat at a 10. His ability to act as a midfield destroyer coupled with his efficient linkage with the attack made him the most valuable Argentine player (yup more than a player wearing the 10 jersey).
  • Holding Midfielder - Schweinsteiger Germany. Not to be repetitive...but what was Low doing the first half of the tournament? Once he lined up Lahm on the right with Schweiny and Kedira as his two holding midfielders, the Mannschaft took off. What took so long? Schweiny was the engine for the German team. His work rate, like Mascherano's, was off the chart. Seeing what he went through against Ghana or Argentina epitomizes his tournament. The man was spent in both matches, but he left everything on the pitch. Without his work effort I am not sure Germany adds that 4th star.
  • Left Winger - Robben Holland. Yes I know he is a diver, could probably medal for the Dutch in the Olympics.  The sad part is, he does not need to dive! When you watch
    The grass got me this time...darn it
    him take on defenders 1v1 you realize he can get past most defenders and when he fights through the contact he tends to find himself in great goal scoring opportunities. He just seems to focus more on getting fouls called for him rather than get through the contact and get himself goal chances. Even with his diving, he had a fabulous tournament. At times he appeared to be the only player in orange to carry the attack.
  • Right Winger - Neymar Jr Brazil - A bit of a surprise here, for a player that missed his last two games. That might be one of the reasons to build a case for Neymar. Until the semi-finals, Neymar was the one player that gave the Brazilians any hope. He carried the offense for the host nation. To be blunt, without Neymar, Brazil might not have made it past the group stages.
  • Central Midfielder - James Colombia - The new darling of world football, earned his new found fame by having a monster tournament. Winning the golden boot with 6 goals and carrying his nation to a first ever 1/4 final, trusted the Monaco player into the lime light. His creativity and bag of tricks turned Colombia into a real dark horse this tournament. Just think how scary Colombia might have been had Falcao been on the pitch. The future is bright for this 23 year old.
  • Striker - Messi Argentina - Shocking, but this is made by default. I am putting Messi here mainly on his performances early in the tournament (more on this later as well). He is also here because I do not consider Muller as a striker - I would have him as a second team left winger behind Robben. Messi saved his side in the group stages and had some decent spurts in the knock out rounds, but left much to be desired. His inclusion is indicative of the lack of world class strikers playing up to par this tournament.
  • Other players - Navas Costa Rica GK, Zabeleta Argentina D, Boateng Germany D, Muller Germany MF, Pogba France MF, De Bruyne Belgium MF, Kroos Germany MF, Sanchez Chile F.
No surprise that this team is loaded with players from the German side. Of course there are always flops as well. Here are the top three flops - these players had to be on teams that made it to the knock out stages, otherwise I would just slot 3 players from Spain on this list!
  • Fred Brazil - Wasn't he the leading scorer during the Confederations' Cup? What happened in the year between tournaments...oh right....teams actually try during the World Cup. He was a complete waste during the World Cup. Other than his atrocious flop against Croatia, he did nothing. What a waste.
  • Bradley USA - Has been called Caillou by Boston based sports radio 98.5, isn't far from a good comparison. The best US player heading into the tournament was close to a disaster for the red white and blue. Too often Bradley was a negative for the US rather than his usual positive impact on the team. I place some of the blame on
    Caillou! You can't give up the ball that easily
    Klinsmann who played him out of position, but still his performance was awful.
  • Oscar Brazil - Wasn't he suppose to be the creative lynchpin for Brazil? Creating space and opportunities for the likes of Neymar et al? So where was he? Like Fred, he was completely invisible. Yes he scored some goals, more than can be said for his countryman - Fred. But for all the hype surrounding this player heading into the tournament he was a huge flop.
  • Honorable mention - the entire Brazilian back line and keeper. The 7-1 trashing exemplified how atrocious the Brazilian defense was starting with their donkey keeper - Cesar - who can thank his goal frame for beating Chile. But even more so with their excuses for outside backs - Maicon/Alves and Marcelo. They cannot defend and all think they are really strikers. One play that epitomized how pathetic they are was on the goal by Klose in the semi final game. Marcelo keeps Muller onside by giving him a 5 foot cushion...inside his penalty area. Marcelo almost ran over Cesar trying to "cover" Muller. But the worst of the lot is Luiz. Big Bird might be the worst central defender I have seen since Pascal Cygan. He has no positional awareness...wonder why Muller was so wide open on the first goal in the semi finals? Answer - Luiz was suppose to be covering him. Go back and look at the fifth goal...Luiz makes an attempted tackle in the midfield and got skinned. There is a reason why he ended up playing mostly as a defensive midfielder for least there were players behind him to clean up his mess. Sigh...and PSG spent a boat load on him...why? Maybe we can get a refund from Chelsea.
The best team of the tournament, that didn't win the tournament, was Costa Rica. Los Ticos emerged from the "Group of Champions" besting, England, Italy and Uruguay. I was reading a pre-tournament publication that stated they had "no chances" of getting out of the group. They took Holland to the penalty kicks, so were that close to getting to the semi finals. A great run for the CONCACAF side.

The best manager of the tournament - Van Gaal. I put him above Low, since the German manager gets points deducted because of his stubborn Germaness when it came to Lahm in the midfield. But the Dutch manager pulled many of the right strings. It is ashamed that captain and striker - RVP - disappeared during the knock out stage, otherwise Holland might have expected a better result. Van Gaal's 3 back system with two deep lying wide players, including former striker Kuyt, was a perfect system for the Oranje. Swapping keepers during the penalty kicks against Costa Rica was a bold move that paid off...clearly one he wanted to make in the Argentina game but did not have any substitutes.

The player of the tournament - Yes Messi won the golden ball...but he did not deserve it, I think he knows that as well! Neuer was the player of the tournament. His performances against Algeria, France and Argentina were player of the tournament worthy. He made countless plays with his feet outside the area against Algeria that allowed his team to continue to play a dangerous high line. He made two imperial saves against France to keep a clean sheet. And was equally dominant against Argentina in the finals. On the other hand Messi completely disappeared in the knock outs, especially when it counted against Holland and Germany. There were many stories about how tired he was from a long season, but it isn't as if the other players were playing for amateur club sides....they all have been playing lots of football. It feels as if the moment overwhelmed the Barcelona magician.

2014 was a great World Cup, even if Germany won it all! See you all in 4 years in Russia. Actually see you in 2 years in France for the European Cup!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Don't cry for me Argentina... RFA for winning the 2014 World Cup. Once the game went into extra time it was clear that the Germans were the only team that would win the match. Argentina looked totally cooked, and Messi was a complete shell of himself.

The Good:
  • For a 1-0 extra time game it was fairly entertaining, both sides had some legitimate chances in regulation. Oh yeah Palacio had a clear 1v1 in extra time but since he is of very little technical ability he made a mockery of the shot. In regulation, especially in the first half, it was clear that the organization and structure of Germany  was controlling the possession, but Argentina's pace was creating some serious problems for German's back line. Neither team was just sitting back, both were playing to their style and strengths.
  • Gotze's goal was very good. A great foray down the right side by Schurrle, the Argentine defense chased, two players, the Chelsea player down the wing, allowing space to be created behind them. Demichelis was caught in no mans land and allowed Gotze to get behind him. Great control and finish. A deserved goal for the 1-0.
  • Mascherano and Schweinsteiger were both huge for their respective sides. Both midfielders' work rates were superb and deserve a large amount of credit for keeping their sides in the match. Shows you why a team needs a strong defensive midfielder, and no Michael Bradley doesn't count.
The Bad:
  • Higuain's finishing or lack there of. Okay he did put one in the goal...but was offsides. And that off sides was unnecessary. As a world class striker he should know how to make that run, it wasn't that complicated. That could have changed the game...yes stating the obvious. But his other clear chance was absolutely butchered. On a terrible back pass from Kroos, Higuain found himself 1v1 with Neuer...and shot the ball a good 10 feet wide. Awful. All he needed to take a simple touch and he had numerous options versus the keeper. Bad. Just bad.
  • I have to question Sabella's substitutions. Much like 8 years ago in the 1/4 finals of the same match up when Argentina left a young Messi on the bench all game rather than bringing him on in a tied game. This time around I question taking off Lavezzi at the half for Aguero. Why? First Germany had already used a substitution so keep yours in the pocket and really force Germany on the back foot tactically. Second, Lavezzi was creating all kinds of problems for Germany. The Germans had no solutions for his pace. Why not allow the PSG winger to get another 15 to 20 minutes, let him go all out running at the German left? In addition you bring on Aguero who was coming off injury, not sure he was able to run for 45+ minutes. Finally, with Aguero - Higuain - Messi on the pitch, you had three players who refused to run back...this
    Sigh...lost opportunity
    substitution was poorly timed and advised.
The Ugly:
  • Paging Messi, paging Mr Lionel Messi .... Yes Messi had a good start of the tournament, but was it a bit of fools gold? He was absolutely invisible in this game. He made a few runs, but clearly was not mentally nor physically in the game. At times he looked like he was just going for a walk, no urgency, no apparent desire...was the moment too big for him? Any comparisons to Maradona are a tad foolish now. He did not take over either the tournament and especially not this last game. 
A decent ending to a great tournament. Germany, I will grudgingly admit, was the deserved winner from the start of this tournament.

Uber Alles

Germany v Argentina: World Cup final rubber match

Later today Germany will face Argentina in a World Cup final rubber match. Argentina won the first match in 1986, 3-2, the World Cup that was defined by the evil genius that was Maradona. The two sides met again 4 years later in Rome, for the worst finals ever seen at a World Cup. That version was won by the Germans 1-0. That game was marred by ugly football, Argentina getting 2 red cards, Klinsmann at his flopping

best and a terrible penalty granted by an official that seemed overwhelmed by the situation. Let us hope that this round resembles more the 1986 version than the 1990 version.

After the 7-1 destruction of the hosts it would appear that this is Germany's final to lose. Or is it? Every since Low put out a line up with Lahm back at right fullback and playing two holding players - Khedira and Schweinsteiger - and even inserting a natural striker Klose, the side has been clicking on all cylinders. And any mistakes get cleaned up by Neuer in the goal. The Mannschaft were the second favorites behind Brazil, and we all saw what the second favorite thought of the favorites a few days ago.

Ended up a good day for Argentina
On the other side we have a team that seems to be an enigma wrapped in a riddle. A team that many, myself included, thought they would make this tournament theirs. On their home continent, on the ground of their fiercest rivals and playing with the best player on the planet. Instead the side has failed to flatter. They have been efficient - giving up 3 goals all tournament, but they have only scored 8 goals. Germany almost scored that many in the semi finals! Messi has shown flashes of his brilliance - saving Argentina from embarrassment against Iran. But he has not been consistent. Practically walking through the game against Holland. There are reports that he has "heavy legs" after a long season with Barcelona. I have even heard a rumor that he is saving himself for this game. Regardless he is now at a World Cup final. A game that will go a long way to define his legacy in global football and more importantly in his nation. It is well documented his living in the shadow of Maradona in his nation of Argentina. This will only  grow more intense if he does not show up for this game.

So who will prevail in the match between the German machine v the Argentine legacy? Germany has shown some ruthless efficiency - they already faced a team defined by a world class player, Portugal, and handled them with ruthlessness. They dispatched the upstart French with the bare minimum. And cleaned house against the hosts in the semi finals.  Germany have the right formation and the players hitting their stride at the right moment. With Klose up front, Low allows Muller to slot to his preferred left side and Ozil on the right. Khedira and Schweiny play the perfect holding roles and Kroos is quietly becoming a world class set piece player.

Argentina are missing their second most important offensive players - Di Maria. The midfield
No joy at the Maracana?
will fall even more on the shoulders of Mascherano. The other Barcelona player on the roster is a beast in the midfield, but he will have to deal with threats coming from multiple angles. Up front, Higuain has to step up his game which he seems to have been on the path of doing so, but he must bring his A game if Argentina hope to prevail. Of course there is Messi. The one weakness that Germany has shown is the ability to handle pace through the middle, something Messi could bring...if he stops walking around the pitch. Germany suffered when they faced Ghana and Algeria, two very quick teams up top. If Messi can get some space and time to run at the German defense they might have something. Especially if Germany continue to play a high defensive line, that might open them up for someone like Messi or Higuain or Aguero to make runs behind the defense.

But at the end of the day, I think a well run German team will prevail against the Argentina superstar. Messi does look tired and at half speed. Messi at his best could give this side some real problems, but not at this stage. Argentina will defend much better than the Brazilians did, how could you be any worse. They will also be motivated to try and win the title on Brazilian soil as well Messi having a chance to get out of Maradona's shadows. Alas, Die Mannschaft will win in a very methodical and very German way.

Germany 3 - Argentina 0

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