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World Cup final focus: Argentina

Jul 11, 2014, 10:36 PM EDT

Argentina AP

It hasn’t been pretty. It hasn’t been spectacular. But it’s been done.

Argentina is back in the World Cup final, and Lionel Messi is one win away from placing himself firmly in the conversation with Diego Maradona, something he’s never truly been able to do.

But there’s more – much more – to Argentina than Messi, and that’s what we’re here to break down.  So with the world’s biggest game nearly upon us, let’s take a look at the Argentinians.

Road to Rio
June 15, Group F vs. Bosnia & Herzegovina, W 2-1
June 21, Group F vs. Iran, W 1-0
June 25, Group F vs. Nigeria, W 3-2
July 1, Round of 16 vs. Switzerland, W 1-0
July 5, Quarterfinals vs. Belgium, W 1-0
July 9, Semifinals vs. Netherlands, D 0-0 (advanced 4-2 on penalties)

Form: The Argentinians have struggled to score goals, but defensively have been solid, having yet to trail a match for a single second this World Cup.

Stats
Possession: 59%
Pass accuracy: 80%
Shots: 95
Shots on target: 61
Goals from open play: 7
Goals from set pieces: 1

Leaders
Goals: Lionel Messi (4)
Assists: Messi (1), Gonzalo Higuain (1)
Tackles: Javier Mascherano (18), Marcos Rojo (12)
Recovered balls: Ezequiel Garay (44), Mascherano (42)
Distance covered: Mascherano (67.2 km), Pablo Zabaleta (65.6 km)

History
Tournament appearances: 16/20
Previous finals appearances: 3
Finals record: 2-1

Outline to victory: Hey remember way back when I said it wasn’t all about Lionel Messi? I was wrong. Argentina’s here, but they’re staggering into the Maracana. Only one man can beat the Germans, and that man hasn’t scored in the knockout stage yet.  Messi is the man to make everything happen, and teams know that. There’s a disconnect when he’s being covered by two or three defenders, and so far it’s mostly kept Argentina at bay. The team must do everything in its power to get him the opportunities he needs. Or he can just make his own, he’s quite good at that too.

In addition, they will struggle if the midfield wastes possession.  Argentina have had less than 50% possession in each of their last two matches, and it’s shown with just one goal in that time.  The defense has been spectacular, with Javier Mascherano the lynchpin despite playing out of position.

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