Latin America and Europe have played an interesting tug of war with the World Cup’s Intercontinental Title for the past 84 years. Brazil remains the only Latin American team to win the World Cup on European or African soil and conversely, no European team has ever won the World Cup on the American continent.
Brazil’s existence as an outlier stems from their ’58 World Cup victory in Sweden. If Germany defeats Argentina in Maracanã on Sunday afternoon, consider the tally even. However, the byzantine dynamics are so much more complicated than that.
International conflicts have a unique way of bleeding onto the World Cup pitch and every official from a rival geopolitical or football country is out to draw blood in the opinion of football fans. An additional complex has developed from watching its biggest stars leave for European prestige and riches.
The juxtaposition of Argentina in the World Cup final after Brazil’s humiliating undressing at the feet of Germany further complicates matters.
Argentina and Germany are soccer’s closest equivalent to mortal cross-continental enemies. Sunday’s final will be the seventh World Cup meeting between the two international giants and the World Cup Final rubber match. Four years ago, Argentina's World Cup quest came to an end against Germany in South Africa.
Argentinian and Brazilian relations have been volatile on the pitch. Every four years a new incident emerges that gives way to another international conflict. Brazilians will be divided over rooting for their Latin American rivals or the team that catapulted Braziian soccer back to the stone ages and performed involuntary reconstructive plastic surgery on Joga Bonito.
And don’t even think about kicking up dirt over Pele and Maradona. Argentina winning the World Cup in Brazil’s football mecca would be the equivalent of Popeyes getting KFC’s secret recipe.
Of course, the focus will be on the constellations on the pitch. Messi shines brightest; however, 24-year-old Thomas Muller has over twice as many goals in his credit than Messi, in part because the German side is so much more balanced.
The Germans can come at Argentina with a strike team unit consisting of elite goal-producing snipers.
In six matches, Argentina has scored just eight goals and barely slipped by Iran, Switzerland, Belgium, Nigeria and the Netherlands. Germany tallied seven goals in one match against Brazil in just 10 shots on target and during World Cup qualifying they paced all European sides in goals scored.
If there’s one weakness on the German side, it’s in their own goal. Not only is left back Benedikt Höwedes playing out of his position, but German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has a tendency to risk charging out of the goal to sweep up loose balls--and for being caught out of position.
It’s not a glaring vulnerability, but every Death Star has its thermal exhaust port.
Germany is a machine. Argentina relies on the deux ex machine (Latin for god from the machine), Messi. He's a football revelation born to engineer a miracle.
It’s not quite Cleveland and LeBron, but Argentina and Messi have always had a complicated consanguinity.
Born in Rosario on the largest city in the province of Sante Fe, nestled near the border of Uruguay, Messi’s football brilliance was reared in Spain after he left for Barca’s junior program when he was nine years old. Unlike Maradona, he’s viewed as an ex-patriot who shed his Argentinian skin for Spanish arms.
While Mueller embarks in pursuit of Franz Beckenbauer-like German sainthood, the white rabbit, Messi chases is Maradona, whose career began with the Argentinos Juniors at the age of 16 until he blazed the trail for Messi to Barcelona after his 20th birthday.
While the rest of the world outside of Brazil makes an argument for Messi’s ranking in the pantheon of football legends Pele and Maradona, native Argentinians would take Maradona out of jingoistic pride.
Messi has won a litany of individual and club trophies in Spain, however he’s never achieved the meaningful status atop the World Cup’s highest mountain. Two Olympic Gold medals in 2004 and 2008 don’t move the needle for international football fans.
Winning a World Cup would allow the bastard child of Argentina to assume his national flag under the House Argentina banner.
The epilogue in Messi’s career has not yet been written; but whenever it's published, Sunday will be his acme.