Saturday, July 12, 2014

Argentina vs. Germany: Messi vs. The Machine

The day is upon us. Argentina vs. Germany, "Messi vs. The Machine," legacies are on the line. This is is so much more than what happens on the field. The outcome in Rio will not only effect how each country prepares for 2018, but how the world views each of these nations. One team earns bragging rights for four years, and one is forgotten forever. It's that simple. Let's look at the Argentine side:

Greatest Strength - Lionel Messi

This one is a no-brainer. He's the fastest player on the pitch, may have the best ball skills of anyone in the world, and he can hit upper-90 on either side of the net, with either foot, seemingly whenever he wants.

Still, plenty of men have had the skills, but only a select few have become true legends of the beautiful game. One thing is clear, Lionel Messi will always be harangued if he doesn't lead his country to a World Cup victory in his international career. What's not clear is whether Messi will have another chance to advance this far in his prime. It could be now or never. Maradona got it done in 1986 in a victory over West Germany. Is the writing on the wall for the Barcelona superstar to follow suit, and take over as the official Argentinian icon?

Glaring German Weakness - everyone not named Messi

On the  German side, no one man can mark the great Messi. In fact, no club in the world has a defender that talented. Expect Germany to throw added pressure at him whenever the ball gets possession. The Netherlands used the same kind of approach, and limited Messi to just one touch in the attacking third throughout the entire 120 minutes of action. Even so, Messi was able to break the coverage for a superb crossing opportunity. 

Most have been quick to criticize Argentina's back-line, which historically has been the bane of their scoring attack as broken possessions interrupt their offensive rhythm. But if you've been paying attention this year, you'd know that they have actually been quite effective especially as one of the stingiest defenses in the tournament. The blue and white have conceded just three goals in six World Cup games. That's an eye-popping statistic for any nation, not to mention they're coming off of a shutout in the semifinal against the high-powered Dutch.

On the other hand, the Argentines have scored a mere 8 goals in 6 games, half of which were scored by Messi himself. But Messi will need help up front to open up space for Messi. Unfortunately for Messi, attacking midfielder Angel di Maria is officially listed as doubtful after suffering a thigh injury in the quarterfinals, but the outlook for him playing is bleak at best. Where does that leave Messi in terms of support? It's on Higuain, Lavezzi, and Aguero to take advantage of the space behind the German defenders. There can be no more sitting back, deferring to the captain carry the team to glory. Every championship team needs role players. It's time to fill those roles.

That about wraps it up folks. Expect a pro-German crowd as the Brazilians probably don't want a neighbor to carry the day. Coverage on SnapCall of the 2014 World Cup Finals starts at 2:55 PM ET. Join the crowd and let your voice be heard!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Can Brazil Win Without Neymar and Silva?

As 200 million Brazilians and the rest of the futboling world mourn the loss of Neymar from the 2014 World Cup, it’s another missing Brazilian whose absence may well decide tomorrow’s semifinal in Belo Horizonte. Captain and all-world center back Thiago Silva picked up a senseless yellow card in the second half of Friday’s quarterfinal v. Colombia. Brazil has appealed Silva’s booking and subsequent suspension, but it’s highly unlikely that the ruling will be overturned. That leaves A Selecao without their best player and talisman, as well as their captain and defensive rock. So, how exactly will Brazil go about defeating a German side that suffocated a full-force France squad?

Simply put, it will be difficult. It hasn’t exactly come easy for the Brazilians in this tournament as it is. They’ve been overly reliant on Neymar for any attacking thrust, and don’t look like the free-flowing side that we’ve come to know over the years. One answer could be to jam up that midfield with bodies. German captain Phillip Lahm moved back to right-back against France, allowing Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, and Toni Kroos to find rhythm and flow in the middle of the park. In a move that would be un-Brazilian, but pragmatic in futbol terms, Luiz Felipe Scolari could make a big change by employing three defensive midfielders tomorrow. 

In a likely swap, Fernandinho, Paulinho, and Luiz Gustavo will all start, and are all midfield enforcers. Fortunately, like almost every Brazilian player, they can all spring forward after possession is won and join the attack. A plausible tactical play for Scolari would be to employ a 4-3-3, with the midfield trio listed above. Then, his attacking ‘3’ could include the likes of Oscar, Hulk, Willian, Bernard, or Jo, all of whom could strike quickly on the counterattack. Don't be shocked if all 5 of those forwards see the pitch against Germany, especially if the home nation find themselves trailing.

Although Brazilian purists may detest such "defensive" strategies, two victories separate these sides from a World Cup title. Winning ugly is still winning.

The semifinal showdown between these two giants of the sport kicks off on SnapCall at 3:55pm tomorrow. Don't be late for this feast of futbol!