Germany will play Argentina in the World Cup final seeking a fourth Cup triumph, while Lionel Messi will be looking to seal his place in the top echelons of football history.
The Germans enter the final as the tournament’s form team, having thrashed the host Brazil 7-1 in the semi-finals in a seismic result that shook the tournament and international football.
Germany also comes into the game with the benefit of an extra day’s rest after spending the majority of its semi-final in second gear after sealing the win over Brazil inside the first 30 minutes.
Argentina, seeking a third World Cup title, will have to battle against any tiredness after battling out a penalty shoot-out win over the Netherlands in 120 minutes, and with one day less to recover.
But Argentina does have the best player in the world in Messi, who will hope to inspire his side past a ferocious German team featuring arguably the world’s best midfield unit, as well as a legion of travelling fans numbering over 100,000.
Not much more can be said about the world’s best player, who has come back from a frustrating club season dogged by injury to propel Argentina into the World Cup decider.
A player of mesmeric finishing ability, ball control and flair, Messi is the creative force behind everything Argentina produces on the pitch and is capable of creating other-worldly match-winning moments out of nothing.
Roared on by an enormous travelling contingent of Argentine fans, Messi will be hoping to conjure up one more sparkling performance for his team after picking up four consecutive man-of-the-match gongs at the start of the tournament.
But Argentina’s greatest strength may also prove to be a key weakness, with Germany well versed on which player it would need to mark out of the game.
The face of German footballing efficiency, Thomas Mueller adds a genuine mean streak to his national team.
Mueller can play as either a winger, attacking midfielder or lone forward, and has an uncanny knack for finding the exact space in which to score.
A great goalscorer rather than a scorer of great goals, Mueller specialises in the scrappy finish, tapping in knock-downs and fighting his way past defenders to poke home from close-range.
That ability to scrap with his opponent has seen him net five goals this tournament – 10 World Cup goals in total – which could see him challenging Miroslav Klose’s all-time goal record in future.
Played a crucial role against the Netherlands in shackling the attacking intentions of Arjen Robben, and will be crucial in performing a similar role against Germany.
Which player he chooses to man-mark is up for debate, but Mascherano’s ability to screen his back four from midfield will go a long way to determining if Argentina can come out victorious.
Mascherano’s agility may be hampered by an injury picked up in the semi-final after making a crucial sliding block on Robben in the dying stages of regulation time.
His ability to play a secondary role at centre-back, as showcased with club Barcelona, could also add versatility to Argentina’s line-up if it decides to switch in more attacking players and chase the game.
One of the most adaptable players on the planet, Germany captain Philipp Lahm has been reinstated at right-back after a spell as defensive pivot in midfield.
Wherever he does play, expect Lahm to be an authoritative influence as he shuts down Argentine forays and springs German attacks going forward.
Lahm personifies Germany’s cool under pressure, and is unflappable even when faced up against the speediest wingers.
A player who has won everything at club level with Bayern Munich, Lahm will be desperate to lead a formidable German side to a long-awaited World Cup title.
The path to the final
Argentina beat World Cup newcomers Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-1 thanks to a Sead Kolasinac own goal and Lionel Messi stunner in their opening match, before Messi popped up again with an excellent goal to help down Iran 1-0.
La Albiceleste then edged Nigeria 3-2 in an exciting clash which saw Messi bag two goals, while defender Marcos Rojo also got on the scoresheet to overcome Ahmed Musa’s brace.
Argentina required a last-gasp Angel Di Maria goal near the end of extra-time to beat the stubborn Swiss 1-0 in Sao Paulo, before Gonzalo Higuain’s eighth-minute strike put paid to Belgium’s hopes in a 1-0 triumph.
The semi-finals saw Argentina battle out a turgid 0-0 draw with a defensive Netherlands side, but progressed to the finals after a perfect penalty shoot-out display.
Germany’s World Cup got off to a ripping start as it thrashed fellow Group G heavyweights Portugal 4-0 in its opening game.
But the first speed bump came in a scratchy 2-2 draw with Ghana, before the Germans edged a valiant USA side 1-0.
The team looked to have lost its rhythm as Algeria held it to a 0-0 in 90 minutes in the round of 16, but Andre Schuerrle and Mesut Ozil’s goals in extra-time sealed a 2-1 win.
Germany then put in a professional performance to beat France 1-0 in the quarter-finals, before exploding in the final four clash with host Brazil, triumphing 7-1 in a historic thrashing.
Head to head: teams ready for third final face-off
This will be the seventh World Cup clash between the two teams, and the third time they have met in the World Cup final.
The first final meeting between the two came in 1986 when Diego Maradona’s Argentina triumphed 3-2 at the Azteca in Mexico City.
West Germany avenged that result in a tetchy 1990 decider, which saw the first two players ever sent off in a World Cup final.
The Germans ultimately triumphed 1-0 thanks to an 85th-minute penalty kick from Andreas Brehme, following Pedro Monzon and Gustavo Dezotti’s red cards.