RIO DE JANEIRO - A Germany side chasing a place in history will attempt to wreck Lionel Messi's dream of a World Cup coronation with Argentina on Sunday as the month-long football carnival hits a climax at the Maracana Stadium.
The 64th game of one of the best World Cups of all time pits Europe against South America -- a duel between two football superpowers in one of the sport's most evocative arenas. Germany are attempting to become the first side from Europe to win a World Cup in the Americas, determined that a golden generation will finally gets it reward after a string of near-misses.
Messi, meanwhile, is seeking the triumph which will silence forever the remaining critics who argue that the absence of a World Cup title precludes him from a place alongside Diego Maradona in football's pantheon. The momentum is firmly with Germany after their astonishing 7-1 semi-final demolition job of Brazil, through a combination of superb attacking play and defensive incompetence. Ominously for Argentina, Germany say they quickly put the win firmly in the rear-view mirror.
It might not be the way Brazilians wanted the World Cup to end but final between Argentina and Germany will provide a nerve-jangling climax to the best tournament in history - even though the goals that have lit it up may not flow.
Whether this match is a high-scoring thriller like their 1986 showdown in Mexico City which Argentina won 3-2, or more resembles the dire spectacle of West Germany's 1-0 1990 win in 1990 in Rome is difficult to predict. The trend in recent finals has been for tight, cagey, defensive games with narrow, low-scoring victories and those finals of 1986 and 1990 reflect the dividing line in the finals story. The six finals up to and including 1986 produced 27 goals, the six since 1990, when Argentina became the first team to fail to score in the final, have produced nine. And there is every indication that, paradoxically, this goal-laded World Cup -- which has produced 167 goals so far and could beat the all-time record of 171 set in France'98 -- will be won by defensive steel rather than attacking brilliance.
Both teams have goalkeepers in the form of their lives with Germany's Manuel Neuer, probably the best in the world, and Argentina's Sergio Romero, putting aside his season on the bench at AS Monaco with some impressive displays, not least his two stops in the penalty shootout win over the Dutch on Wednesday.
In front of Neuer, Benedict Hoewedes has played every minute of the competition at left-back and Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng have looked impressive in the centre of defence. And since coach Joachim Loew re-positioned skipper Philipp Lahm at right-back rather than midfield, the defence has been even tighter. Argentina's rearguard though has been even more impressive.
They have not conceded a goal for three successive matches since a 3-2 win over Nigeria in their last Group F match on June 25, and Sabella can also call on a solid, well-established formation. Romero has gained in confidence and stature as the tournament has progressed while right-back Pablo Zabaleta, centre-back Ezequiel Garay and defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano have all been impressive as they have played every minute of every match. There is of course, another Argentine player who has played every minute for his country -- Lionel Messi.
The world's number one player has enjoyed a satisfactory rather than scintilating tournament so far, scoring four times in Argentina's three group wins against Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria but failing to find the net against Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands in the knockout stages. And while Argentina have struggled for goals since qualifying with one against Switzerland from Angel di Maria and one against Belgium from Gonzalo Higuain, Germany have flourished, with 10 in the last three games.
Thomas Mueller, who scored a hat-trick in the group stage against Portugal, now has five goals, but their total of 17 has been spread around the side.
Miroslav Klose, now the top scorer of all time in the World Cup with 16 goals, has two, Andre Schuerrle three, defender Hummels and Toni Kroos two, while, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Mario Goetze have also found the net.
But they have yet to come up against a defence as formidadle as Argentina's. Lothar Matthaus, the last German skipper to lift the World Cup in 1990, said this week: "There is an old saying in Germany that defences win titles, while the attack wins the glory." Those words could yet be borne out in Sunday's intriguing finale.