Argentina vs Germany: The Previous World Cup finals
This Sunday’s World Cup final may be one of the few occasions in football where the prematch build up writes itself. Argentina against Germany, South America against Europe, a side built to counter attack against one almost robotically programmed to control possession, in football’s grandest occasion. Despite the rise of the Champions League final as a financial juggernaut of an occasion, the World Cup final is still the foremost communal viewing event. The eyes of the world will, quite literally, be on the Maracana Stadium at 4pm Brazilian time.
There are so many subplots and potential narratives to focus on. Germany and Jugi Löw’s chance to finally win a major tournament after an eight year journey, Argentina potentially securing their third World Cup in their eternal enemies palace, Thomas Muller’s continuing pursuit of a place on the pantheon of the World Cup’s most influential ever players and of course Lionel Messi’s chance to emulate Diego Maradona in 1986. Maradona, of course, captained Argentina to victory against the Mannschaft. It was the first of successive finals between the two former world champions, games which changed the course of history for both.
Argentina 3-2 West Germany June 29th 1986
The World Cup in 1986 is remembered as iconic, unique, distinctive, historic, romantic, and they even managed to have a jalapeño pepper wearing a sombrero and sporting a mustache named Pique as a tournament mascot without seeming cringey. Diego Maradona famously dominated Mexico’s second instalment of the game’s global showcase, but it is easy to pass over the performances of some of his teammates. Jorge Valando (who scored four of Argentina’s goals), Jorge Burruchaga and a team that selflessly combined to extract the brilliance from their genius.
Pitted in Group A alongside Italy, Bulgaria and South Korea, ‘La Albicelestes’ finished top with two wins and a draw. Carlos Bilardo’s team beat South American rivals Uruguay 1-0 in the second round, iconically defeated England 2-1 (hand of god etc) in the quarter-finals and, inspired by Maradona’s sheer brilliance, brushed aside Belgium in the semi-finals. In stark contrast, West Germany scraped through Group E in second place on three points behind the Denmark’s effervescent ‘dynamite’ team. They followed that up with a narrow win over Morrocco in the last sixteen and a penalty shootout victory over the hosts in the quarter-finals, before finally finding form in a 2-0 victory over France in the semi-final.
The Azteca, in flaming midday sunshine, hosted the final. From watching the game back on YouTube, what is noticeable is the running Lothar Matthäus/Maradona battle and the quality of ‘El Diego’s’ delivery from set pieces. Argentina took the lead in the 23rd minute, Harald Schumacher misjudging a Jorge Burrachaga freekick, allowing José Luis Brown to cushion a header into the vacant net. Valdana doubled the lead, finishing off a sweeping counter-attack that started with goalkeeper Nery Pumpido rolling the ball to Valdana in the right back position.
West Germany refused to cave in though and exploited the Argentines apparent inability to defend corners. Captain Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Rudi Völler nodded home within seven minutes of each other, and the German’s continued to press for a winner. They were undone by another counter, Maradona guiding a perfectly weighted left foot pass in behind the exposed German rearguard, allowing Burrachaga to carry and toepoke beyond Schumacher’s despairing dive. Argentina secured their second World Cup title, Maradona his place in history and German manager Franz Beckenbauer the ignomy of being the first man to lose a World Cup final as a player and a coach.
West Germany 1-0 Argentina July 8th 1990
Despite not being born until the following year, Italia ‘90 is a World Cup I feel like I was alive, such is the mystique and reverence it has in Ireland. It was our first World Cup and we reached the quarter-finals, so naturally opinion is blinkered here. Similarly in England, Italia ‘90 is fondly remembered, the tears of Gazza and the heartbreaking semi-final penalty shootout loss to West Germany. Perhaps a couple of decades and nostalgia lends us to think of the tournament in glowing terms, but despite the cinematic quality of the official film, Italia ‘90 is generally regarded notoriously elsewhere.
The goals to game ratio of 2.21 is still the lowest figure recorded at a World Cup, the latter stages of the competition often descended into acrimony and FIFA changed the backpass rule in the postmortem to curb negative play, which should put Eamon Dunphy’s current ludicrous “game in decline” narrative into some context. The semi-finals encapsulated the cagey, cynical side of the tournament. West Germany beat England on penalties after a 1-1 draw, while Argentina destroyed the hosts dreams in a shootout following a nasty and spiteful 1-1 draw in Naples. A repeat of the 1986 final was set for the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
Unfortunately, there would be no repeat of the memorable thriller from four years previous. A cynical, cautious and drab affair marred by repeated fouling and a lack of quality, the 1990 final makes the 2010 version in South Africa look tame by comparison. Argentina’s Pedro Monzon became the first player sent off in a World Cup final for a foul on Jürgen Klinsmann. On reflection, it is hard to decifer which is worse.. Monzon’s lazy challenge or Klinsmann’s melodramatic reaction.
Carlos Bilardo’s set his side up to contain and frustrate West Germany, which worked for the majority of the game. One lapse from the Argentina defence late on allowed Rudi Völler space in the area and he was hauled down by Roberto Sensini. Andreas Brehme converted the spot kick to secure the German’s their third world crown, but only after Argentina were reduced to nine men, Gustavo Dezotti dismissed for a second booking. Maradona was marginalised by Matthäus, and he would rarely reach the heights as a player again. Beckenbauer made yet more history, this time becoming the first man to win the World Cup as a captain and a coach.
Argentina-Germany July 13th 2014
Despite the geographical distance, the footballing successes of these two great footballing nations are intrinsecly linked, so it is quite fitting that they face each other in this World Cup final. In the twenty four years since the final, both have won a solitary continental tournament, a paltry sum considering the abundance of talent produced. That will change on Sunday, one way or another. Let’s hope for a repeat of 1986, rather than 1990.