World Cup Semi-Finals – Picking Sides

Messi strikes late against Iran to give Argentina the victory
Messi strikes late against Iran to give Argentina the victory

The 2014 World Cup has been a fantastical spectacle of football so far, as the group stages had plenty of goals and excitement, while the knockout rounds have managed to continue delivering drama, even as the scoring ratio has dropped and the favorite in each tie has progressed.  With the semi-finals taking place today and tomorrow – and no natural allegiance left for me since the USA narrowly succumbed to Belgium in extra-time – here is my preference for which of the four remaining countries I would most like to see win it all at the Maracanã this Sunday:

1. Argentina

I have always had an affinity for Argentina thanks to Tottenham legends Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricky Villa*, but I became an even bigger fan of them in the 2006 World Cup.  In that tournament, their blend of football was enthralling and spectacular to watch, most notably in their 6-0 demolition of Serbia that included my favorite goal of all time – the 25 pass move finished by Esteban Cambiasso. Although they have not been anywhere near as entertaining or convincing this time around, Lionel Messi has played very well and controlled games in the style of his predecessor in the number 10 shirt – not Maradona, but Juan Romàn Riquelme.  Everything has been going through Messi for Argentina – who can blame them when you have a player of his ability – and that will continue to be the case as Angel DiMaria is out for the rest of the World Cup, while Sergio Aguero is far from full-fitness, even if he is likely to be risked against the Netherlands.

*ESPN just released a fantastic 30 for 30 documentary about Ardiles and Villa’s time at Spurs, focusing on the effect that the Falklands War had on the two Argentinian footballers playing in England at the time. I highly recommend checking it out.

My bias is further increased by the fact that every single time I filled in a bracket prior to the World Cup, the only thing that I did not change my mind on was who I though would win this World Cup – Argentina.  I picked them when the draw for the tournament was made in December and again in the preview just before the World Cup kicked off last month, so it would be nice to be proven right about one thing, given that my other three semi-finalists in the latter post were Chile (not bad, only missed out on getting past Brazil on penalties), Spain (oops); and Switzerland (pushed Argentina in the Round of 16, but I thought they would top the group and have an easier route).  Beyond just wanting to be right though, I really want this Argentina team – in particular Lionel Messi – to end their drought in international tournaments and win this World Cup.

2. Germany

Another country that I started to really root for in 2006 and my enjoyment of Germany came through another former Tottenham player, Jürgen Klinsmann.  When he was manager of the German national side, Klinsmann completely overhauled their style of play into one that was attacking and exciting to watch, far different from the 2002 version of the team that was effective but dull as they made the World Cup final in spite of a paucity of talent (outside of Michael Ballack and Oliver Kahn, they did not have any top class players).  Now they have an abundance of great midfielders – my favorite being Thomas Müller, but also Mesut Özil (whom I liked a lot more before he went to Arsenal, but still rate as a fantastic passer of the ball), Toni Kroos, Andre Schürrle; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Götze and Sami Khedira – the best goalkeeper in the world, Manuel Neuer; and the joint top-scorer in World Cup history, Miroslav Klose, who needs one more goal to pass Ronaldo and have the record to himself.  They are a vibrant side to watch and their defeat of France means they are the first nation to appear in four consecutive World Cup semi-finals; while they have also reached this stage in their last five major tournaments.  However, it has been 24 years since they won the biggest prize of all and they have not done so as a unified nation, as all three of their triumphs have come under the moniker of West Germany.  Coincidentally, the only other two countries that have won the World Cup three times, lifted it for a fourth time 24 years after they had their third: Brazil (1970 – 1994) and Italy (1982-2006) – the Germans have a great chance to continue that trend in 2014. Continue reading