Football

Five key battles that will decide the final

It boils down to who's got the balls - dead balls and final balls

FINAL

GERMANY v ARGENTINA

(Tomorrow, 3am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141, 
StarHub TV Ch 223 & MediaCorp okto)

Flags of Germany and Argentina will adorn the Maracana Stadium tomorrow morning (Singapore time), with the stage set for two giants of international football to vie for the sport's greatest prize.

These two sides meet for an unprecedented third time in a World Cup final, following consecutive encounters in 1986 - when Argentina claimed a 3-2 victory in Mexico City - and 1990, when Andreas Brehme's penalty sealed a 1-0 win for the Germans.

Can Germany become the first European side to win the trophy in South America? Or will Argentina be crowned world champions in the home of their great rivals Brazil?

Here are the key areas to consider:

DEFENCE THE KEY

Pundits were in agreement that - for all the thrilling, attacking football on show - the team who lift the trophy will have benefited from a strong defence.

That theory has held true, with the finalists having two of the best defensive records in the competition.

Germany have conceded an average of 0.6 goals per game - the fifth lowest - while Argentina's average of just 0.42 goals per game is the second-best record of all the teams in Brazil.

They haven't conceded a goal in the 400 minutes of football they have played since the group stage.

SET-PIECE SPECIAL

Set-pieces have been a reliable source of goals during this World Cup, and these two are among three of the four semi-finalists who have relied on them.

They are both recent converts to the set-piece art; no nation qualifying for the tournament proper did so with a smaller share of goals from set-pieces than them.

Brazil (27 per cent), Germany (29 per cent) and Argentina (38 per cent) have scored over a quarter of their goals from either free-kicks or corners.

Argentina's Lionel Messi scored with a free-kick against Nigeria in the group stage.

Die Mannschaft have broken the deadlock in their last two matches with set-pieces, too. Deliveries from Toni Kroos allowed Mats Hummels to head in against France and Thomas Mueller to convert a corner against Brazil.

GERMAN EFFICIENCY

It would be a disservice to Germany to call their semi-final performance clinical - it was so much more.

Throughout the tournament, they have shown their ruthless efficiency when through on goal.

Joachim Loew's side average 12 shots per 90 minutes with a conversion rate of 21 per cent - the third-highest in the tournament.

Argentina, who on paper boast a glittering attack, have been shooting at an identical rate, but their conversion rate is a lowly 8.2 per cent.

MARGINALISED MESSI?

The goals have dried up for Messi, and consequently Argentina, since the conclusion of the group stage.

His performance against Holland was further testament to how teams are able to lessen his influence on the game.

The Barcelona star touched the ball just three times in the final third against a Holland side reluctant to venture too far forward.

A similarly compact display from Germany could see him frustrated again.

FATAL FINAL-BALL

Germany have completed one of the highest percentages of passes in the final third - 63 per cent - and demonstrated against Brazil how easily their players can find one another in the danger area.

Argentina, meanwhile, have often struggled to pick one another out among ranks of opposing defenders, managing to complete just 47 per cent of passes in this area - among the lowest of the tournament.

SUMMARY

Germany took a while to get going but, when they did, they were ruthless. Argentina, while remaining tight at the back, have looked disjointed up front.

Whether they can repel a slick Germany attack and get the best out of Messi will likely determine who stands tall in the Maracana.

- Wire Services.

World Cup