Thomas Muller may have a reputation as being one of the most light-hearted members of Joachim Low’s Germany side, but ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ Final against Argentina, even his seemingly permanent smile was replaced by an expression of steely resolve.
While cities across his homeland prepare for the tens of thousands of fans expected to attend public viewing events on Sunday, the attacker is focused on preparing himself for the "biggest" of big games at the iconic Estadio Maracana.
“In terms of prestige and importance, the World Cup Final is the biggest game you can play in as a footballer,” Muller said. And having found the net five times already at Brazil 2014, his objective is clear: to help Germany win a fourth FIFA World Cup after triumphs in 1954, 1974 and 1990.
There is, he explained, no time for anything else. "Unfortunately we've not managed a sightseeing tour of Rio de Janeiro to get to know the magic of this city," he said, "So for me there's only one reason to come back to Rio: to win the Trophy.“
The current squad is well equipped to do so, even if it has a rather different complexion to fabled teams of the past. The Germany side that lost the 1986 Final to Argentina at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City were famed for their fighting spirit; the ensemble that exacted revenge on La Albiceleste four years later at Stadio Olimpico in Rome to lift the trophy for a third time were renowned for their dynamism, while the Germany team at South Africa 2010 stunned the football world with their attractive, attacking style.
Yet the modern Germany assembled by Low is a squad that appears to be more balanced than ever before, combining all of those standout qualities of previous generations into a group led by players who realise this could be their last chance at glory.
“Now we’re just a step away from making our dream come true and achieving our common aim,” said Philipp Lahm, winner of a UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup. “When you’re this close there’s only one thing you can do: stay fully focused and just concentrate on the task at hand. That’s what we’re going to do on Sunday in order to bring the trophy, which we’ve worked so hard to win and which we’ve all been waiting such a long time for, back to Germany.”
The country’s media have described the team as being just moments away from immortality, ready to end the years of yearning for glory at the Maracana, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck will be in the stands to witness the occasion. For the 30-year-old Lahm, who is set to earn his 113th international cap in Rio de Janeiro, it is an opportunity to be mentioned in the same breath as national legends such as Fritz Walter, Franz Beckenbauer and Lothar Matthaus.
When you’re this close there’s only one thing you can do: stay fully focused and just concentrate on the task at hand
“I’m certain that the team will mercilessly do what they need to do,” said general manager Oliver Bierhoff. “We’ve come so far and we don’t want to allow it to slip away now.”
Meanwhile, Low is satisfied that his charges have got the euphoria of their 7-1 dismantling of hosts Brazil in the semi-final out of their systems, and that Germany will be taking nothing for granted. “My feeling is that everyone has got their feet on the ground and are ready to take the last step,” Low said.
Striker Miroslav Klose, who was on the losing side in the 2002 title decider, commented that: “It will be a completely different football match. It’s the Final and of course I know exactly how horrible it feels to lose it.”
Teamwork the key
The 36-year-old veteran, who grabbed his 16th FIFA World Cup goal against Brazil to become the tournament’s all-time leading scorer, is expecting “a tense and heavily tactical” game. Fellow attacker Muller, 12 years Klose’s junior, agrees that another free-scoring display from Germany is highly unlikely.
“We need to build from the back,” said Muller, one of ten candidates to win the adidas Golden Ball at Brazil 2014. “The defenders need to play quick passes into midfield. We need to shift the ball from one side to the other frequently and we won’t have time to even take four touches of the ball at any moment. We need to find the spaces, make sure we bring the ball forward quickly and take one or two risks. We need to put Argentina’s defence under pressure.
As to the task of keeping Lionel Messi at bay, Muller said: “We know how to defend but it’s important to play as a team. Of course we need to be wary of Argentina’s talented individuals, but ultimately we need to defend against the whole Argentinian side, not just one player.”
That sense of maturity will serve Germany well on Sunday, but it is also the exact quality that has helped their South American opponents reach the Final too. The stage is therefore set for the tournament showpiece on what promises to be a magical night in Rio.