And so the 2014 FIFA World Cup final will not be a replay of the 1974 final between European neighbors but, instead, a renewal of hostilities between Germany and Argentina, the two nations having met in the final match in both 1986 and in 1990. Argentina edged, rather than dominated, their game with the Netherlands to put them through to Sunday’s showcase event in Rio’s Maracana Stadium. Following the previous day’s semifinal between Germany and Brazil which rendered superlatives superfluous, Argentina’s war of attrition with Holland was a tighter, more prosaic affair. Just as in 1998 penalties proved Holland’s undoing, as yet again the favorite team of many a neutral fell at a late stage without fulfilling their awesome promise.
With Germany heading into the game as favorite to win, it is worth looking back to the two previous occasions in which these two global titans have met in the final. In the heat, humidity and altitude of Mexico in 1986 Diego Maradona elevated himself to a peak of performance and iconic status not seen since Pele in 1970. Any image of Maradona in his playing days circulating today will invariably come from that tournament. His goals against England in the quarterfinal and against Belgium in the semifinal have entered the folklore of the world’s game. Having reached the final in Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium, Argentina was faced with a then West German team coached by an icon who could rival Maradona himself: Franz Beckenbauer.
In 1984, following the debacle of West Germany’s elimination from the European Championships in France, Jupp Derwall was dismissed as coach and replaced by the man they call “Der Kaiser”. Beckenbauer’s team, led by a creaking Karl-Heinz Rummenigge but augmented by fresh talents such as Lothar Matthaus, Andreas Brehme and Rudi Voller, surpassed all expectation and reached the 1986 World Cup final. Going 2-0 down they bravely battled back to level at 2-2 before a flash of Maradona inspiration swung the game Argentina’s way and to a final 3-2 victory.
In 1990 Beckenbauer’s team was four years wiser and with Matthaus as driving midfield powerhouse and captain. In a squalid final in Rome, Maradona wept as his team handed over their world crown to West Germany in a bad tempered game in which two Argentinians were shown the red card. Maradona’s great days were over after Italia ’90 and his country has had to wait until now to reach the World Cup final again. For Germany, however, Sunday’s game is the first appearance in the final since Japan in 2002 when they lost out to Brazil 2-0. On home soil in 2006, and in South Africa four years ago, Joachim Loew’s team was edged out in tight semifinal encounters. Tomorrow, in Rio, they will hope to go all the way.