Illustration by Megan Eloise/TheGazelle
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — After an uneventful 120 minutes, during which both Argentina and the Netherlands set to keep their slates clean, the semifinal match was decided by a nerve-wracking penalty shootout that gave the Argentine team the last spot at the final of the Brazil 2014 World Cup, arguably the largest sporting event on Earth.
Argentina’s goalkeeper Sergio Romero became a national hero by saving two penalties against the Dutchmen Vlaar and Sneijder.
Argentina will now face Germany, a football powerhouse that reached the final with the confidence from their record-breaking 7-1 victory against the host team, Brazil.
Here is how Germany and Argentina managed to reach the final of the Brazil 2014 World Cup:
Germany qualified first in Group G after beating Portugal and United States 4-0 and 1-0, respectively, and drawing against Ghana 2-2.
In the Round of 16, Germany’s credentials were tested by the Algerian underdogs in a match that was resolved during extra time by world-class strikes from André Schürrle and Mesut Özil. The Algerians proved to be a close match for the German giants and scored a goal in the 120th minute, sealing the result at 2-1.
In the quarterfinals, Germany faced a strong French team whose aspirations of advancing in the World Cup were cut short after a goal in the first quarter of an hour by Borussia Dortmund’s centerback Mats Hummels.
Fate would pit two teams rich in football history against each other for the semifinals, Brazil and Germany. To the dismay of the host team and the 200 million Brazilians who have football imprinted into their DNA, the European team mercilessly scored time and time again, delivering a crushing blow of seven goals to Brazil’s one. This match quickly transformed into a tragic moment in Brazilian football history, surpassing even the 6-0 defeat the team suffered against Uruguay in 1920. With this astounding result, Brazil lost the chance of exorcising the demons of the 1950 World Cup, in which they lost unexpectedly in the final to Uruguay, a defeat dubbed "El Maracanazo'. To make matters worst, former Brazilian striker Ronaldo also lost his place as the most prolific striker in World Cup competitions when Miroslav Klose scored his 16th goal in a World Cup tournament.
The path to the final from the Argentinian squad was less glamorous but equally important.
The Argentine team qualified first in Group H with a perfect score after beating Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria 2-1, 1-0 and 3-2, respectively, thanks to some stellar performances by Lionel Messi.
In the Round of 16 Argentina had their work cut out for them in a close match against Switzerland, which was finally resolved in added time — at the 117th minute — thanks to a pass from Messi to Di Maria, whose left boot sealed the victory for the Argentinian squad.
Argentina won against Belgium in the quarterfinals, controlling the match after an eighth-minute goal by Higuaín, whose spectacular volley smashed the back of the net past the young Belgian goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois.
The South American side faced its greatest challenge yet in the semifinals, when they played against a Dutch team with some of the world’s most prolific strikers, such as Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. The Argentinian side put up a solid defensive system which halted all Dutch attacks by pressing and marking in their own half. This nullified Robben’s chances in front of the goal, except for a 90th-minute move that could have ended in a goal and disqualification for the Argentinians, were it not for Mascherano’s superb tackle right inside the penalty box. After a goalless 120 minutes, the match came down to a penalty shootout. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero claimed a spot in the hearts of the Argentine fans after saving the penalties taken by Vlaar and Sneijder. The Argentinians managed to score their 4 shots and secured a place in the final of the World Cup after a 24-year absence.
In 1990, West Germany beat Argentina 1-0 and managed to avenge their loss against the Argentinians in the final of the 1986 World Cup in which they lost 3-2, a game which also saw Diego Maradona rise to eternal glory.
And now the question before us is the following: Will Lionel Messi assert himself in the eyes of his critics as one of the finest players in history by finally leading the Argentinians to victory? Or will the German side power through the Argentine defense and claim the title?
The truth is that Germany reaches this final match as favorites by only a narrow margin, due to the amazing team play and sacrifice they have demonstrated throughout the competition. Their team is a well-oiled machine with the tactical genius of Joachim Löw at the helm. This does not mean, however, that Argentina has no tools in its arsenal with which to claim the title of champions in the final match. With amazing players such as Messi, Higuaín and the recently recovered Agüero, they have the potential to return to Buenos Aires bringing the cup with them.
On Sunday, July 13th the world will see if Argentina can stop the German side from claiming a first-ever World Cup by a European squad in South American soil. One thing is certain: With the massive amount of talent playing in this World Cup final, the world will witness why we like to call this sport “the beautiful game.”