Saturday, July 12, 2014

Bierhoff: We have to play our own game

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German team manager Oliver Bierhoff warned his players on Friday to avoid a repeat in the FIFA World Cup™ final with Argentina of the ugly scenes that marred the end of the two sides' quarter-final at Germany 2006.

Bierhoff, who has been in the post since 2004, found himself in the thick of it when punches were thrown after Argentina lost a tense penalty shoot-out to Germany. Of the three players punished for the punch up just Maxi Rodriguez remains.

"The Argentinians are very warm people and great hosts, but on the pitch they have a bit of a personality change and get fired up," Bierhoff said. "They have fire in their eyes, which we will have to be ready for and not provoke them.

"They play hard, aggressive physical football, which means we can't steer away from our football philosophy and must focus on what we have to do," added the 46-year-old former international striker, who was a member of the side that won the UEFA EURO 1996 title and played in the 2-0 defeat by Brazil in the 2002 World Cup final.

Bierhoff says Argentina will be a different proposition compared to hosts Brazil after Germany ran riot to claim a remarkable 7-1 semi-final win in Belo Horizonte.

"It will be a different game compared to the semi-final, they defend deep, leave little space to run into and wait for (Lionel) Messi to show a moment of magic," Bierhoff said. "We have to play our own game, run the extra mile and not give them the space they need."

This is the sixth time Germany will meet Argentina at the World Cup and the third time in the final -- with both sides tied at 1-1 in terms of the title match.

Germany lost 3-2 in Mexico in 1986 and gained revenge four years later beating Argentina -- who were reduced to nine men -- 1-0.

German captain Philipp Lahm, one of five players in the present squad who faced Argentina in Berlin eight years ago, said history will not be a factor at the Maracana.

"I don't think there aren't so many players still around from 2006, I remember it came to fists, pushing and shoving after the final whistle, but I don't think it will play a role," the 30-year-old said.

"It doesn't matter if it was four or eight years ago, we just want to focus on Rio."

Lizarazu: Argentina are a very crafty team

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Bixente Lizarazu has been a ubiquitous presence in the French football media for several years now. Be it on the radio, television, or in the written press, the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ and 2000 UEFA European Championship winner has shown as much versatility off the pitch as he did in his playing days.

In Brazil to cover the 2014 World Cup, the former France and Bayern Munich left-back took time out of his busy schedule to grant an exclusive interview to, during which he discussed the eventful semi-finals, Sunday’s showpiece match and his own country’s performances in the tournament. What did you think after watching Brazil’s incredible semi-final loss to Germany?
Bixente Lizarazu: Lots of different things. What happened was pretty illogical. When a team loses 7-1 in a World Cup semi-final, you can’t really do much technical or tactical analysis. The way I see it, psychological and emotional aspects came into play. I think that the World Cup has been emotionally draining for the Brazilians; that’s the only explanation I can come up with. You got the impression that lifting the trophy was a matter of life and death – before the matches, during the anthems and at other key moments. Emotions were running high. Top-level football requires cool heads, and it seemed like Brazil didn’t have enough of them.

Did Brazil really have a chance of going all the way, in your opinion?
Some people are commenting after the event and saying that the team wasn’t very good, but they still managed to beat Chile and Colombia, who had both looked dangerous. Of course, they were without Neymar and Thiago Silva during the semi-final, but the entire team had an off day – they didn’t become a fifth division outfit overnight. It all just got too much for them which had an effect on their game.

Can the Brazilians pick themselves up and secure third place versus the Netherlands?
I don’t know: I’ve never had to face that type of situation, which is almost unique at the World Cup. If Luiz Felipe Scolari had a magic solution, he would have used it at half-time to ensure the players pulled themselves together. It’s like someone who’s been on edge for weeks and weeks due to a build-up of all kinds of things, and who eventually cracks and has a nervous breakdown. There’s nothing more to add about Saturday's match, which will not be easy to play in, and which, whatever happens, will not erase the memory of their 7-1 defeat. 

How much credit should be given to Germany?
Everyone’s talking about Brazil, and of course something wasn’t quite right because of the huge gap between the sides. But that said, I thought Germany put in an outstanding performance. Tactically, they’ve been exceptional during the World Cup. They managed to sort out their problems as they went along, especially in defence against Algeria, where they were rescued by Manuel Neuer. Philipp Lahm was put back to right-back, and the two defensive midfielders, Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger, have gotten a little bit better with every match. I’d say the turning point came against France, with Mats Hummels returning to central defence. Germany became a well-balanced team from that point onwards. A lot of people are playing down the Germans’ role, because of Brazil being eliminated, but in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014, Germany reached the semi-final stage or better.

They’re a very crafty team – they can slow the game down and dictate the pace. They think about what they’re doing and they’re not easy to break down.

FIFA World Cup winner Bixente Lizarazu on Argentina

How do you explain their consistency in major tournaments?
They’ve had some great generations when they didn’t win. They deserved it at times, but that doesn’t really mean anything. I’d say they came closest at EURO 2012, where they lost to Italy due to terrible defensive mistakes, despite being the pre-match favourites. Perhaps they were a little too obsessed with playing attractive football. In my opinion, Germany are, along with Spain, the team that often produces the highest quality of football, but they were lacking certain things, such as the ability to finish off a match when necessary. Here, we’ve seen them adapt to lots of different situations, before attaining tactical perfection against Brazil. There are days like that where everything you touch turns to gold, with lovely passing triangles and interchanges, and goals coming from practically every shot. This generation deserves to finally win a major title, because they’ve been so close several times.

Argentina-Germany, is that a final you like the sound of?
It should be a great final. Argentina have had trouble getting going in this tournament. They’ve also had defensive problems, but have made some clever selection choices, with Martin Demichelis starting in central defence, Lucas Biglia moving to a different position, and Javier Mascherano bossing things in midfield. All of those tweaks have provided balance to the team. They put in an excellent defensive performance versus Belgium, and against the Netherlands too, where you had two strong defences squaring off. They’ve lost a key player in Angel Di Maria, and it’s not clear yet if he’ll be able to play in the final, but they’ve got Lionel Messi, who’s been in decisive form, and who also intends to write his own bit of history. Gonzalo Higuain has been very good in the last couple of matches, while Sergio Aguero is available again, so there’s a lot of attacking potential. They’re a very crafty team – they can slow the game down and dictate the pace. They think about what they’re doing and they’re not easy to break down. Their forwards’ speed, liveliness and technical ability are impressive, but what has struck me the most about them is the way they break up their opponents’ rhythm. The Netherlands were barely allowed to show what they could do, despite the fact that they were one of the most entertaining teams we’ve seen here.

Let’s talk about France a little. Were you pleased by how they played during the World Cup? 
There were things that I liked, but the way it all ended was disappointing and a little bit frustrating. I thought they lacked flair towards the end – that’s the one thing I regret. That said, they had to face Germany, and we’ve since seen what they’re truly capable of. They’re an experienced side that have been through a lot together, which is not yet the case for France. They either held back and tried to be too prudent, or they had nothing left in the tank; whatever it was, there was a real lack of verve. For me, the Nigeria game was the toughest, because we were favourites, while against Germany we weren’t. That’s why it would have been nice to see them throw caution to the wind and tell themselves they had nothing to lose. I felt like they had more to give. 

What did you feel were France’s plus points? 
Didier Deschamps. I like him a lot, because his goals and approach were very clear, from his team selection to the message he tried to get across. He was able to find the right blend of players and the right words at the right time. He made sure the team didn’t get carried away after their 5-2 win over Switzerland. He brought back stability and order to the side, which was no easy task. A sense of calm returned to the squad, and it was nice to see everything go back to normal. That important groundwork will be of great use in the next couple of years. I also like his honesty. He's not a dreamer, he’s a builder, and I like that mentality, because you can’t just create a winning team overnight, even less so one that can lift the World Cup. However, in two years’ time, when we host EURO 2016, we’re going to be very solid indeed.

Predict the Hyundai Young Player Award winner!

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Today, announced the official shortlist of Hyundai Young Player Award candidates for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™. You have until the final whistle on 13 July to submit your predictions!

The Hyundai Young Player award recognises the contribution made by young players upon their debut on football’s greatest stage, the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Can you predict which young star will follow the likes of Lukas Podolski (2006) and Thomas Muller (2010) into the FIFA World Cup record books?

All the nominated players have a sensational tournament, but which one will walk away with the prestigious award? Will it be Memphis Depay (NED), Paul Pogba (FRA) or Raphael Varane (FRA)?. Submit your prediction now and you could win one of 30 Hyundai premium sets! Each set includes a specially branded adidas brazuca football and Fuleco. All entries that correctly predict the Young Player will be placed into the prize draw.

Predict the Hyundai Young Player now.

Midfield general Mascherano makes dream reality

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Argentina had to rely upon their leader and Barcelona star to squeeze past the Netherlands and reach their first FIFA World Cup Final™ for 24 years, but it wasn't the one they expected.

Javier Mascherano continued his fine World Cup with a last-ditch tackle deep into stoppage time to prevent Arjen Robben's goalbound effort from breaking the deadlock before Argentina prevailed on penalties.

"It was more my job. When Robben took a heavy touch, he lost a second, and I was able to make the challenge. I did what anyone would have done," Mascherano argued modestly afterwards.

Whilst four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi carries the armband and provides the stardust, Mascherano is the heart and soul of this Argentina side.

If Messi leads by his example, Mascherano is the vocal leader. The latest example of that coming before the penalty shoot-out against the Dutch when "the little chief" could be seen telling goalkeeper Sergio Romero, "tonight you become a hero in Argentina." Romero went onto make the two crucial saves in the shoot-out.

Mascherano had been captain at the last World Cup under Diego Maradona, who claimed after taking the job his side would be "Mascherano and 10 more."

And with the current Argentinian side on the verge of emulating his achievements of winning the World Cup in 1986, it was Mascherano not Messi who earned the plaudits of Maradona.

"When I said it was Mascherano and 10 more, they laughed," he said on Wednesday. "Now they cannot laugh. The example on the pitch is Mascherano. Everyone follows his rhythm so they cannot score against us."

Score against them is what no one has managed to do in the knockout phase and Argentina had battled their way to the final in a way no one expected. 

Backline bodyguard
Messi's has been a World Cup of moments rather than spell-binding dominance, whilst the other three of La Albiceleste's fantastic four: Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria have all been affected by a lack of fitness or form.

Instead it is the work of Mascherano patrolling his backline that has contributed to four clean sheets in six games in Brazil. His form is all the more amazing given he hasn't played his preferred role at club level for four years since signing for Barcelona.

Converted into a central defender by Pep Guardiola, Mascherano has experienced highs and lows at Barcelona with his lack of height and pace often exploited in the last line of defence. Yet, so beloved is he within the club that last month he was rewarded with a new contract until 2018.

"I would never, ever sell him and I wouldn't swap him for anyone," Guardiola said before his exit from the club in 2012.

That change of position has also had its benefits for Argentina. Playing at Barcelona has greatly improved Mascherano's distribution and he has played more passes at a higher success rate than any other player at the World Cup.

The biggest test of his capabilities is yet to come, though, in denying a rampant German side that smashed hosts Brazil 7-1 in the other semi-final.

"We know that on Sunday we will play the game of our lives. We hope to crown this with the trophy, but either way I feel so proud of this squad," he added. "It is a dream for all of us to return Argentina to this possibility."

A possibility that exists thanks to Mascherano's sense of timing.

Eckel: You can't take your eyes off Messi

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When Philipp Lahm and his team-mates walk out onto the pitch at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro for the 2014 World Cup Final on Sunday, one of Germany's greatest footballing heroes, Horst Eckel, will be glued to his TV set and doubtless reminded of his own World Cup Final experience. 

In 1954, he was the youngest player in the West German Miracle of Bern squad that defeated a practically unbeatable Hungary side 3-2 to give the German Football Association its very first World Cup crown. 

60 years and nine days later, Eckel is now willing the current black, red and gold generation to make history once more in Brazil. “I believe the lads can do it. We’ve already got a slightly better chance. The team have got into a good rhythm,” the 82-year-old said when approached him for comment a few days before Sunday’s big game. He also warned: “It’s no coincidence that Argentina have reached the Final. They haven’t got a bad team either, and our boys will have to watch Lionel Messi for 90 minutes. You can't take your eyes off a player like that for a second.”

A remarkably poor start
Eckel believes that Germany have a truly strong team without any real weaknesses, “much like us back in 1954.” That year, the omens before that final showdown with the Mighty Magyars were anything but positive. “It was difficult for us to travel to Switzerland back then, because in 1954 Germany was not recognised in political, economic or sporting terms,” the former Kaiserslautern midfielder recalled to “But we didn’t go there and just try not to lose; we wanted to play well and play for Germany.” 

National coach Josef Herberger’s team progressed to the quarter-finals after two wins over Turkey and a bitter 8-3 thrashing by Hungary in the group stage. A 2-0 victory over Yugoslavia in the last eight was a breakthrough moment for the West German side. “After that, we realised that we could go far, but the prospect of becoming world champions was still a long way off,” Eckel explained. “At that point in time, reaching the semi-finals was an incredible achievement for us.” A brilliant 6-1 triumph over Austria followed.

The Final itself got off to an inauspicious start as Die Mannschaft conceded two early goals. “After that, a jolt went through the team. It came from [goalkeeper] Toni Turek right through to our strikers, saying: ‘Come on lads, we can’t lose that badly again.’ When we scored to make it 2-1, we realised that we had a chance even against this formidable Hungary team. For me, the 2-2 equaliser was the most important goal of all. We went in level at half-time and said to ourselves: ‘We’ve turned around a 2-0 deficit against Hungary, now we can become world champions too – and we want to be world champions!”

‘Hoch auf dem gelben Wagen’
The rest of the story is well-known. Helmut Rahn scored in the 84th minute to make it 3-2 and give Germany their first World Cup title – and the Miracle of Bern was born. “Of course, we were overjoyed and embraced each other, but we didn’t take our shirts off and throw them into the crowd or spray each other with beer like you see today – it just didn’t happen in our day,” the retired teacher said. “Then we went into the dressing room and sat down as if we’d lost the match. Every single one of us sat there and thought: ‘Are we really world champions? What will happen when we go home?’ At that point, Herberger brought us to our senses, saying: ‘What’s wrong with you all? Don’t you realise you’ve won the World Cup? Let’s sing.’ We always sang the folk song ‘Hoch auf dem gelben Wagen’ [‘High up on the yellow wagon’] with Herberger. After that we were fine, and then we got louder and carried on singing. It was like a dream.”

Despite eventually realising the scale of their achievement, the entire team was still overwhelmed by the reception they received on their triumphant return, as they were greeted and cheered by hundreds of thousands of jubilant people across the country. “As we weren’t recognised by the rest of the world, we didn’t realise what the mood was like in Germany,” said Eckel. “We only realised when we got back. That’s when we knew we’d done something small to help Germany get back on its feet. We were very proud of that.”

How does your life change when you become a world champion? “We probably wouldn’t be having this interview now if I hadn’t won the World Cup,” Eckel says to with a smile. He and Hans Schafer are now the only two surviving members of the team of 1954. “If it weren’t for that win, I’d just be one of a huge number of former footballers. It’s a great honour to be a world champion, but you shouldn’t get carried away afterwards; you’ve got to keep your feet on the ground. But the pride of winning a title like that never goes away.”

Eckel now believes that Joachim Low’s team are capable of experiencing that same feeling of pride. “We have a very good team, just like back in 1954,” the 82-year-old said. “We’re strong in both attack and defence. I can only say good things about this side, and I hope that they’ll play better than ever on Sunday because it’s the Final.”

Nicola Rizzoli to referee Final

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Germany and Argentina contested the final of the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™ and an Italian referee will officiate as the same countries meet in the 2014 decider. Nicola Rizzoli, a 42-years-old an architect from Bologna, has already refereed three matches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, taking charge of Spain-Netherlands and Nigeria-Argentina in the group stages and the quarter-final between Argentina and Belgium.

Rizzoli started his international career in 2007, going on to referee the final in each of the two main European club competitions. He was the man in the middle for Atletico Madrid-Fulham at the climax of the 2010 UEFA Europa League, followed by the all-German decider between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 UEFA Champions League.

In 2011, the Italian was selected for the FIFA Club World Cup, where he presided over two games. In 2012, Rizzoli was tasked with handling Spain-France in the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2012 and two more matches during the same competition. Last year, he was in Turkey for the FIFA U-20 World Cup, where he took charge of two fixtures.

Rizzoli will be assisted by his compatriots Renato Faverani and Andrea Stefani, who are both 44 years old. The fourth official will be Carlos Vera from Ecuador. Nicola Rizzoli will be the third Italian referee in the history of the FIFA World Cup to officiate a final, following in the footsteps of Sergio Gonella in 1978 and Pierluigi Collina in 2002.

Aussie Brillante to join Fiorentina

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Australian club Newcastle Jets said on Friday they had agreed terms for the transfer of midfielder Josh Brillante to join Italian Serie A club ACF Fiorentina.

The Jets said Brillante, 21, will travel to Italy this weekend to finalise his move.

"I've had an amazing couple of years at the Jets and I'm very thankful that I came to a club like Newcastle who develop young players and give them an opportunity," Brillante said.

"Having the chance to play regular first team football has helped my game improve a lot and it is a big reason why I've been able to achieve things like playing for the Australian national team."

Brillante was named the Jets Player of the Year for the 2013/14 campaign, having starred as a central midfielder and right back.

His club performances earned him a call-up to the Socceroos' 30-man preliminary squad for this year's FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil.

adidas Golden Ball candidates announced

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As a memorable 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ draws to a close, FIFA has officially announced the names of the ten players in the running for the adidas Golden Ball, which is awarded to the competition’s most outstanding performer. 

The shortlist was drawn up by the members of FIFA’s Technical Study Group, who have been casting their expert eyes over each and every one of the matches held at Brazil 2014 to date. Appearing in alphabetical order, the ten contenders for the prestigious accolade are as follows: 

- Angel Di Maria (Argentina)
In providing Lionel Messi with the best possible support, Di Maria has led the Albiceleste attack with distinction, posing a constant menace to opposing defences with his long-range shooting, mazy dribbling and finishing skills, which he showcased with a well-taken winner against Switzerland in the Round of 16.

- Mats Hummels (Germany)
The Borussia Dortmund centre-half has attracted much praise for his solid displays at the heart of the German defence. As if that were not enough, Hummels has also impressed at the other end of the pitch, rising high to score against Portugal in the group phase and head home the winner against France in the quarter-finals.

- Toni Kroos (Germany)
Kroos ran the show as Die Mannschaft swept aside hosts Brazil 7-1 in the semi-finals, dominating the midfield and posing a constant threat with his passing and shooting, which brought him two goals – all in a day’s work for this most consistent of performers.

- Philipp Lahm (Germany)
The Germany captain began the tournament in midfield before seamlessly making the switch to the right-back slot, without it undermining his performance levels or his considerable influence on Joachim Low’s side.

- Javier Mascherano (Argentina)
Though their much-vaunted attack attracts most of the headlines, Argentina have also been solid in defence, a large part of the credit for which must go to Mascherano for his tireless work in providing the Albiceleste rearguard with essential protection.

- Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Messi added to his FIFA World Cup goal tally with some lethal finishing in each of Argentina’s three group matches in Brazil. Though yet to find the back of the net in the knockout rounds, he has remained an influential figure for his side.

- Thomas Muller (Germany)
In opening his campaign with a hat-trick against Portugal, Muller picked up where he left off at South Africa 2010, where he collected the adidas Golden Boot. His performances since have underlined his status as the spearhead of Germany’s deadly front line.

- Neymar (Brazil)
Though only 22, the livewire forward ably shouldered the huge responsibility of leading A Seleção. Neymar was his side’s stand-out performer with four goals before an unfortunate injury ended his tournament in the quarter-finals.
- Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
The flying Dutch wide man has been in peerless form since putting defending champions Spain to the sword in his side’s opening match. His incisive runs from deep have been a feature of the tournament. 

- James Rodriguez (Colombia)
Recognised as a huge talent heading into the competition, the gifted Rodriguez has since proved his ability to rise to the big occasion. His haul of six goals in five outings was a major reason why Los Cafeteros broke new ground in reaching the last eight for the first time.

The winners of the adidas Golden Ball, Silver Ball and Bronze Ball will all be announced after Sunday’s Final.

The FIFA Technical Study Group
Headed by Jean-Paul Brigger, the FIFA Technical Study Group assesses the football played in each of the 64 matches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Its members are Gerard Houllier (France), Raul Arias (Mexico), Gabriel Calderon (Argentina), Ricki Herbert (New Zealand), Abdel M. Hussein (Sudan), Ka Ming Kwok (Hong Kong), Ioan Lupescu (Romania), Gines Melendez Sotos (Spain), Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (Japan), Sunday Oliseh (Nigeria), Mixu Paatelainen (Finland), Jaime Rodriguez (El Salvador) and Theodore Whitmore (Jamaica).

Previous adidas Golden Ball winners:
1982 FIFA World Cup Spain: Paolo Rossi (Italy)
1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico: Diego Maradona (Argentina)
1990 FIFA World Cup Italy: Salvatore Schillaci (Italy)
1994 FIFA World Cup USA: Romario (Brazil)
1998 FIFA World Cup France: Ronaldo (Brazil)
2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan: Oliver Kahn (Germany)
2006 FIFA World Cup Germany: Zinedine Zidane (France)
2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa: Diego Forlan (Uruguay)

Depay, Pogba and Varane make up Hyundai Young Player Award shortlist

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FIFA’s Technical Study Group (TSG) today released the shortlist for the Hyundai Young Player Award, featuring three up-and-coming performers that have starred at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.

The accolade continues the tradition of officially recognising the positive impact made by young footballers, and is open to all participating players born on or after 1 January 1993. The winner will be selected by the TSG and unveiled on after the World Cup Final.

The emergence of young footballing talent on the global stage is one of the joys of any World Cup and Brazil 2014 has been no exception.

These burgeoning stars may have already been relatively well-known prior to the opening ceremony in Sao Paulo, but there is little doubt that the three nominated for the prestigious Hyundai Young Player Award have earned new admirers during the tournament for their carefree and refreshing styles of play, as well as their surprisingly mature tactical nous.

The Hyundai Young Player Award is one of the official FIFA awards and is selected by the TSG, a FIFA-appointed group of top football coaches and analysts, whose director Jean-Paul Brigger is a former Swiss international, Swiss domestic league champion (with Sion) and the country’s Player of the Year in 1992. He is also a five-time winner of the Swiss Cup and was named Swiss Coach of the Year in 1995.

The nominees for the Hyundai Young Player Award at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil are as follows:

Memphis Depay (NED): Fresh from an excellent season with PSV Eindhoven, Memphis Depay has confirmed his growing reputation at Brazil 2014. After coming off the bench during the Netherlands’ second match with Australia, the Moordrecht native made a crucial impact, netting a goal and setting up another; in doing so, he became the most youthful Dutch goalscorer in World Cup history. He then got on the scoresheet once more as the Oranje defeated Chile in their third and final group game. Pacey, unselfish and clinical in front of goal, Depay was again used as an impact substitute versus Mexico, before becoming the youngest Dutchman to begin a World Cup encounter since 1938 against Costa Rica in the quarter-finals, completing his journey from rising star to established starter in the process.

Paul Pogba (FRA): Although he is still only 21 years of age, Paul Pogba is already one of France’s key players. The Juventus star gained his first taste of international success last year at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey, where his skills and subtlety of touch helped Les Bleuets to emerge victorious from the competition and enabled him to earn the adidas Golden Ball award. In Brazil, the energetic midfielder showed the full array of his talents, including an opening goal in Les Bleus’ Round-of-16 clash with Nigeria. Having firmly established himself in the side, Pogba is likely to be one of the first names on France’s teamsheet for many years to come.

Raphael Varane (FRA): Absent from the 2013 U-20 World Cup due to injury, Raphael Varane nevertheless enjoyed a successful club season in Spain and on the continental stage. The Real Madrid player confirmed his wunderkind status at Brazil 2014, where he performed admirably at centre-back in a French defence that conceded just three goals in the tournament. Composed on the ball, quick and aggressive in the challenge, and accurate when passing from the back, the imposing 21-year-old is the epitome of the modern defender. While many fans in Europe were already aware of Varane’s potential, the World Cup has provided a platform for him to prove it to the entire planet.

Maxi Rodriguez's long road to payback

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Everyone knows that hard work, discipline and commitment are paramount in order to succeed at the highest level in football, but there are some players who are seemingly destined to take centre stage in the big moments. It doesn't get much bigger than the FIFA World Cup™, where Maxi Rodriguez has come up with the goods in crunch situations on more than one occasion.

This past Wednesday, fate once again put the Rosario-born schemer on the spot, as he stepped up to convert the penalty that put his country through to the Final in Brazil. Eight years earlier, Rodriguez's extra-time wonder strike against Mexico had earned Argentina a place in the quarter-finals at his first World Cup, Germany 2006, although his dreams of going further would subsequently be dashed by the hosts in the last eight.

The Germans also dumped La Albiceleste out at the same stage four years ago, this time dishing out a real thrashing. As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that when FIFA asked him whether he would be looking to get his own payback on Die Nationalmannschaft in the big showpiece at the Maracana on 13 July, the Newell's Old Boys ace did not mince his words.

"You bet. Since they knocked us out on the last two occasions, I can't deny that I'm out for payback. The first time was more painful because it was on penalties. In South Africa it was different, because we hardly got into the game. But now it's a final, the most important match we're going to play. Of course I want revenge."

Waiting in the wings
Maxi has already made amends once at this summer's tournament. Having started just once in the six qualifiers he featured in on the road to Brazil, the veteran was a surprise pick by Alejandro Sabella for Argentina's opener against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We've all dreamed of being world champions and now we are within striking distance of doing it. We're going to fight to make it happen.

Argentina midfielder Maxi Rodriguez

However, with the team struggling, he was unable to make an impact and, after being hauled off at half-time, the winger-cum-attacking midfielder had to wait until the semi-final against the Netherlands for another opportunity.

"I knew that I'd be called upon again at some point and that I might make an important contribution," notes the man who sealed his country's shoot-out victory. "But what's important is what's at stake on Sunday. It's what we had our sights set on before we left Buenos Aires and now we have it within our grasp. Now we all have to make one final effort," adds the former Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Espanyol man.

As one of the squad's elder statesmen – like Lionel Messi, he has played in 11 World Cup fixtures, a figure surpassed in the current group only by Javier Mascherano's 12 – Rodriguez has the authority to discuss how the side are shaping up going into the Final. "We've got better as the tournament has worn on, despite suffering injuries to two key players in Kun [Sergio Aguero] and El Fideo [Angel di Maria]", he notes.

As the 33-year-old explains, "That's why a lot of the attacking onus has fallen on Leo, but we can't burden him with all that responsibility. We know he's a game changer, but we have to support him. The upside is that the group is well drilled: everyone knows their role. We're ready for the challenge that's waiting for us on Sunday."

As for Germany, Rodriguez is not daunted by having to take on an outfit that demolished Brazil 7-1. "They're a compact unit because the spine of the team is made up of players who have known each other for a long time. But that scoreline didn't scare me: it's the sort of result that happens once every 100 matches. We have to be mindful of their threat, sure, but without losing sight of our game and how we can get at them."

After so many false dawns, Maxi is clearly aware of the magnitude of the opportunity he and his team-mates have in their hands. "There is nothing more important to us than making history in this shirt," he asserts by way of a parting message. "We've all dreamed of being world champions and now we are within striking distance of doing it. We're going to fight to make it happen."

Finalists in contention for Golden Glove

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The 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ have witnessed some remarkable displays of goalkeeping from Guillermo Ochoa’s spectacular stop from Neymar, to Tim Howard’s record-breaking 16 saves against Belgium.

There’s also been a string of fine displays from Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas, penalty heroics from Sergio Romero and an almost Libero-esque display from Manuel Neuer in Germany’s clash with Algeria.

And it is the two Finalists, Neuer and Romero who head in FIFA’s Technical Study Group’s shortlist for the best goalkeeper at Brazil 2014.

Keylor Navas (CRC) 
The Levante stopper was arguably Costa Rica’s best player at Brazil 2014, including a match-winning display in the Round of 16 tie against Greece. Making 21 saves in Los Ticos’ five games, he was awarded the Budweiser Man of the Match Award on three occasions. At 26-years-old the best years of his career are firmly ahead of him.

Manuel Neuer (GER)
The Germany keeper has played in all of the Nationalelf’s six games so far, making 25 saves and completing 202 passes. He’s kept three clean sheets and been a commanding presence for Joachim Low’s side so far. After winning a host of domestic honours, the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup, the FIFA World Cup and the Golden Glove is now in his sights.

Sergio Romero (ARG)
Penalty shoot-out saves from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneidjer sent La Albiceleste into the final, capping a fine tournament for the 27-year-old so far. The Monaco keeper has kept four clean sheets, making 15 saves in Brazil 2014 so far. Brought into international football by Diego Maradona, he has been Argentina’s first choice keeper for five years.

Aguero: Underdog tag helps Argentina

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Argentina striker Sergio Aguero believes his side will relish the tag of underdogs when they face Germany in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final™ in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

The two sides' contrasting routes to the final has made Joachim Low's men heavy favourites to win the World Cup for a fourth time as they smashed hosts Brazil 7-1 in their semi-final, whilst Argentina only squeezed past the Netherlands on a penalty shoot-out after a 0-0 draw.

"Germany were always the favourites, along with Brazil, to win the World Cup," the striker said on Thursday. "They continue to be so now. We need to play our own game and it suits us that all the pressure is on them."

Argentina's road back to the final for the first time in 24 years has unexpectantly come on the back of a solid defensive record as their fearsome attack, including four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, has failed to hit top form.

And Aguero is aware they may have to withstand plenty of pressure from the Germans once more at the Maracana. "We are in the final and we have to play it and win it in whatever way possible.

"We want to have control of the ball, but we know that Germany is a great team that know each other off by heart having played together for many years. It is clear that Argentina always go out to win, but sometimes during the game you have to be cautious. We are all aware of what the objective is and we will leave everything on the field to achieve it."

Confident in team abilities
And team-mate Maxi Rodriguez insisted Argentina were capable of beating anyone on their day. "Germany is a very strong, aggressive opponent, but if we are at our best we can beat anyone. What I am interested in is leaving as a champion. It is the dream all Argentines have."

Aguero made his return to action for the final 40 minutes against the Dutch after missing the last 16 and quarter-final victories over Switzerland and Belgium respectively due to injury. The 26-year-old struggled to get into the game, though, and admits it is difficult to recover full fitness in the middle of such an intense tournament.

"When you come back from an injury, it is always in the back of your mind whether it will return," added Aguero. "I had to train and try to be as good as I could be. When you miss three games, especially in a World Cup, you realise what you are missing."

Argentina are hopeful of recovering another key player from injury in time for the final as Angel di Maria returned to light training on Thursday. The midfielder missed the semi-final due to a thigh injury.

"Di Maria trained at between 60 and 80 per cent on the pitch," said Argentina team spokesman Andres Ventura. "His progress is obvious. He will be observed over the next few days to see if he will be fit."

Muller: I expect Final to be tight

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Thomas Muller has warned Germany fans not to expect Sunday's 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ Final against Argentina to be as easy as their semi-final win over Brazil. The 24-year-old was joint-top scorer and named Best Young Player at the 2010 World Cup and he has made another major contribution this time around, scoring five goals to help Germany through to final.

One of those goals came in the astonishing 7-1 thrashing of the host nation in the last four, but he insists nobody in the Germany camp is getting carried away by that result. "I don't know what kind of a game it will be (on Sunday), but I don't expect it to be 5-0 at half-time," the Bayern Munich forward said at a press conference. "That would be nice, but it's probably going to be tight like it was against Algeria or France."

Germany led Brazil 5-0 at the break on Tuesday with many members of Joachim Low's team admitting they had to pinch themselves to see if it was really true. "It was about not trying to humiliate our opponents or showboating," he said. "We wanted to carry on playing normal football and not get arrogant, but that's quite normal - it was the players' initiative."

As a result, Muller says Germany were able to "concentrate on preserving energy and avoiding injuries" in the second 45 minutes against Brazil, a game that was also played 24 hours before Argentina's 120-minute encounter with Holland, which was decided by penalties. Germany could therefore be fresher on Sunday, but the real difference in the eyes of captain Philipp Lahm is likely to be their experience.

I don't know what kind of a game it will be, but I don't expect it to be 5-0 at half-time.

Germany's Thomas Muller on the Final

"Experience is important," said the 30-year-old, who has lifted eight trophies for Bayern Munich in the past two years. "I think if you look at club level, many of us have already been involved in big games. Whether they were positive or negative is not important, but we all have experience in a Champions League final, DFB-Pokal final, or whatever. "We're always playing at the very top level and when you go through our squad, you'll see we've all got that experience and it's certainly an advantage for us."

Lahm is therefore also very confident that he will be lifting a trophy into the air for the ninth time since August 2012 on Sunday, and he already has plans for afterwards. "I think I'll just have an early night," he said. "By that, I mean in the early hours."

Should Germany triumph in Rio, they will return to Germany for a reception in Berlin on Tuesday, along the so-called fan mile linking the Brandenburg Gate and the Siegessaule. "We're very grateful for the support of our fans," said the national team's general manager Oliver Bierhoff.

"In the past, we'd been faced with the question of how we would celebrate with our fans. After the 2006 World Cup, we did that after finishing third. In 2008, after coming second at the European Championships. This time, we've decided only to celebrate together with our fans if we win the title, and we are absolutely adamant that we will do it."

Fair play at the forefront of Football for Hope Festival

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The Football for Hope Festival 2014 in Caju came to a close on Thursday, but not without an exciting and dramatic finish that had everyone, including two-time FIFA World Cup™ winner Cafu, on the edge of their seats. After the festival’s programme of cultural and educational activities during the first five days wrapped up on 6 July, the football tournament started on Monday and concluded yesterday. It was clear – from the first match through the final – despite the high stakes and pressure that comes with the final day of any tournament, fair play and sportsmanship were the top two priorities on Thursday, and those values left everyone in the Vila Olimpica Mane Garrincha smiling throughout a fun-filled day.

Once the football tournament concluded with Cape Verde’s Delta Culture Cabo Verde narrowly edging French side Sport dans la Ville 1-0 in the final, an energetic closing ceremony brought the ten-day event in the Rio de Janeiro favela to an inspiring and passionate end despite sporadic rain requiring a move indoors. The wet weather did nothing to dampen the spirits of the 32 participating delegations, which were eager to celebrate with each other after receiving their medals. Speaking after the closing ceremony, FIFA Head of Corporate Social Responsibility Federico Addiechi, who helped congratulate the 32 teams from 27 different nations on a job well done, reflected on an event that “went extremely well."

"It exceeded all of our expectations in terms of the experience we have created for youngsters to come together from around the world and compare notes on how their respective organisations are using football to tackle some of the pressing issues that they face in their communities," Addiechi added. “It’s been an amazing opportunity for them, but they have been based no their great leadership potential and their ability to contribute to the content of this festival.

"We wanted them not just to have fun – they went to watch Germany-France at the Maracana and they visited the Sugarloaf – but also to have a good opportunity to exchange and learn through workshops and interaction with peers from other parts of the world.

 “It is these learnings that will help them continue to build a better future in their home communities.”

Inspiring scenes
Although the desire to win was evident in the passion and determination exhibited throughout the day, the level of respect for the game and opposing teams were the most prominent – and inspiring – features on the two football pitches. Teams would celebrate goals scored by the other team as if they were their own, while missed shots, good saves and clever touches were all met with applause and encouragement from everyone involved.

During the hard-fought second semi-final between Delta Culture Cabo Verde and Colombia’s Alianza Colombia, the Cape Verde side’s No7 scored the only goal of the match with only a few minutes remaining. When his team-mates joined him in a co-ordinated dance to celebrate the occasion, their South American opposition immediately joined in the festivities while the goalkeeper congratulated the goal-scorer. The first semi-final, which featured runners-up Sport dans la Ville and Starfinder, the delegation from the USA, went to penalties. The French side ultimately won after five dramatic rounds, but every save - and even the goal that sent the Europeans through to the final – was met with applause and encouragement from the other side. Even the teams who had finished playing joined the celebrations, and one member of Australia’s Football United jokingly told Sport dans la Ville, “If you win (the final) I’ll give you a kangaroo!”

Before the semi-finals kicked off, the 32 delegations were treated to a demonstration of blind-football by some of Brazil’s most experienced and talented players. Starfinder goalkeeper Erick Cerrada, who was one of the youngsters who gave blind-football a try, was amazed at how talented the blind or partially sighted players were. “I couldn’t believe how they were doing all of their tricks!” he said with a big grin after he lifted his blindfold and noticed his opponents’ abilities.

Cafu, who kicked off the final match, told his thoughts on the impact of the Football for Hope Festival 2014. “The meaning of this tournament is incredible,” the former Brazilian international said. “The opportunity for these children to interact with those from other countries and many cultures, it’s simply incredible to see.

“Today, here, they have an opportunity to change their lives for the future. Football for Hope is an initiative that can help change the lives of the kids who come from underprivileged communities. It creates opportunities for them and the participants must embrace them.”

It was clear the 192 delegation members, all of whom came organisations supported by Football for Hope around the world, understood the opportunity and privilege they had been given at the Football for Hope Festival 2014.  The values and life skills imparted on them during an incredible ten days in Caju have put them in good stead to further the positive impact their organisations are having back home.

Scolari out to restore pride

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Luiz Felipe Scolari wants his Brazil players to restore some pride to the nation by ending the FIFA World Cup™ with a victory.

Brazil's hopes of winning the World Cup on home soil were dashed in the most brutal fashion on Tuesday when Germany hammered them 7-1 in the semi-finals. A wave of anger towards Scolari and his players followed the humiliation, but the Brazil coach rejected calls for him to resign. The defiant 65-year-old held up a sheet of paper during a press conference that followed the defeat, detailing his record of just three losses in 28 matches.

Another defeat in Saturday's third-place play-off against the Netherlands would increase the public's anger towards Scolari, but he is desperate to end the summer with a win for the hurt people of his football-mad nation.

"I know my career will be marked by this defeat, but we have an obligation to move on and think about the next goal, which in this case is the match for third place on Saturday in Brasilia," the Brazil coach said.

"I know it's a much smaller dream that we all wanted, but we have to honour the shirt of the national team."

Scolari will meet with officials from the Brazilian Football Confederation following the match in the capital to discuss his future. Brazilian football great Zico called on Scolari to quit following the hammering in Belo Horizonte. But Scolari insists he has done a good job with the players he has at his disposal.

"We made the semi-finals, the top four teams in the world," he said. "And there were a lot of good teams that were knocked out before us."

Neymar, who missed the semi-final because of a back injury, tried to raise spirits among the players by visiting the squad at their Teresopolis base on Thursday. It will take a lot to lift the mood of the fans though.

I know it's a much smaller dream that we all wanted, but we have to honour the shirt of the national team.

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari

Some supporters inside the Estadio Mineirao burned a Brazilian flag on Tuesday night and many left after 29 minutes, when the hosts were 5-0 down.

Those who remained booed their team off at half-time and then in the second half they cheered and clapped the Germans as a sign of their disapproval towards Seleção.

Captain Thiago Silva wants the home fans inside the stadium in Brasilia to get behind their team this weekend.

"This is a bad time so we need strength from our fans," said the defender, who returns to the starting XI after sitting out the Germany game through suspension.

"I guarantee that we will play this Saturday's game like it was the final." Silva was at a loss to explain the comprehensive nature of the defeat to Germany.

"It's almost impossible to explain what happened," the Paris Saint-German centre back said.

"This was not the Brazil team we know."

Beckham backs Messi to decide Final

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David Beckham is thrilled to see Lionel Messi feature in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ Final and is backing the Argentina star to lead his team to victory. Messi has often faced criticism that he has not reproduced his Barcelona form on the international stage, but has played a key role as La Albiceleste progressed to Sunday's final against Germany.

"He's amazing," Beckham said in an interview on Adidas football's YouTube channel. "He gives people so much pleasure with the way he plays and what makes him special is he plays as a team-mate as well, a good team player. He's got great individual skill, but winning means everything to him. If other team-mates score goals he's the first one there to celebrate with them and I think that says a lot about him.

"Playing for Argentina, I'm sure there's a certain amount of pressure, but going as far as they've gone is incredible. It means so much to him, his family and everyone else around the world, the fact Messi's going to be playing on this stage."

Having been reluctant to offer a prediction for the final, Beckham - who will be at the game with his children - eventually tipped Argentina to triumph 3-1. He said: "It's just amazing that these two teams have come together. Germany came to the tournament with great experience, people are not too surprised they've got as far as this. There's no particular star, they've just a great group that play well together. Argentina have a group of talented players who play with a lot of passion, but Lionel, I'm just excited to see him play."

Winning means everything to him. If other team-mates score goals he's the first one there to celebrate with them and I think that says a lot about him.

David Beckham on Argentina's Lionel Messi

Reviewing the tournament as a whole, Beckham relished the emergence of new teams and players on the world stage - none more so than Colombia and James Rodriguez. "It's been a great World Cup. The fact you've seen teams like Costa Rica and Colombia perform the way they have and some great young players coming out of the competition, it's been great to see," he said.

Rodriguez was included among the nominees for FIFA's player of the tournament award after scoring six goals in Colombia's five games, most memorably a superb volley on the turn against Uruguay in the last 16. Beckham said: "His goal for me was one of the best of the tournament - as a young player, to have that thought, the way he moved into the ball, the way he turned and struck the ball.

"I've heard about him quite a few times and people told me he was a great talent, but to come on to the world stage at his age and play the way he's played, says how talented he is. I think he's got a great future. He's such a talented player and he's a good-looking kid as well, he's got the whole package."

No chance for Depay to judge vary

After a run of four consecutive following play, that player award, saw him in the race for the Hyundai Young the Memphis Depay of its 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil ™ with back-to-back games on the Netherlands Bank.

The PSV Eindhoven forward that sat out 3: 0-playoff for third win over Brazil and now can be found in the same boat as his opponent for the award, Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane by France, after you last time back on the field in the quarter-finals.

While he no doubt like to have logged out of his World Championship debut with a touch of the ball was the 20-year-old looks at the tournament fondly, he scored two and created another in his four appearances for the Oranje.

Coming soon:
Depay the only remaining candidate of the three for the award nominated this means that there are no other contributions to the FIFA technical study group decision to vary, which will be published after the final. We expect only, therefore the news on which the trio has earned the coveted trophy.

Romero: We will remember '78 & '86 champions

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Argentina's players are summoning inspiration from their heroes of the past as they prepare for their country's most important match for a generation. Sergio Romero, the Monaco keeper who was the hero of the hour in the penalty shoot-out against the Netherlands in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ semi-final, says the team is determined to join those who made history in 1978 and 1986.

It is 24 years since Argentina last made the final, where they were beaten 1-0 by West Germany in tense affair. The shirts will be the same colours again in the Maracana on Sunday: Argentina in navy blue, Germany in white. For Romero, however, the chance to join the icons of the Diego Maradona-inspired team of 1986, of that which triumphed on home soil eight years before, is driving this generation of players on, even if free-scoring Germany are the favourites.

Romero said: "The most important thing is that our team and our country provide the best image in the eyes of the world, that the world will speak well of Argentina. We will remember what the champions of 1978 and 1986 achieved but by we will also try to achieve glory by the fight and heart of this team," he said in Argentina newspaper Clarin.

"Maybe for many people it is not the dream final, because they wanted us to play Brazil, but it will be a fantastic game. They will be very tough opponents, they scored seven goals in the semi-final and they did not have to go to extra time so they have been able to save some energy for the final."

Romero saved two spot-kicks, from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder, to see Argentina through after the match ended 0-0 after extra-time. The keeper said minds have now been re-focused after euphoria following the match, where clips emerged from the dressing room of the squad singing their fans' anthem 'Brasil decime que se siente' - 'Brazil tell me how it feels' - to the tune of Creedence Clearwater Revival's Bad Moon Rising. "The boys enjoyed it, everyone was shouting and singing in the dressing room, but from the next morning we set our minds on what was coming and how hard it will be to face Germany," he said.

Germany have accounted for Argentina in the last two World Cups, winning the semi-finals in 2006 on penalties and trouncing the South Americans 4-0 in 2010. This time around coach Alejandro Sabella face the dilemma of whether to pick Angel di Maria, who is struggling with a torn thigh muscle. Di Maria has been undergoing stem cell injections to try to speed his recovery and his father was quoted by Clarin as saying the Real Madrid winger is desperate to play even if he has not completely recovered.

Miguel di Maria said: "He has been making short sprints, doing everything ... and he's confident he will make it. I also think he will play in the final, even if it is just for a few minutes."

Aguero: Make you happy forever us

But he involved far less because Argentina's run to the final of the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 was ™ as he would have liked, still smiling Sergio Aguero. The injury, which he suffered during his third and final group match against Nigeria seems a distant memory, and all that matters now is showdown with Germany in the immediate future, and Sunday, with the trophy at stake.

Understandably happy with life, the Manchester City man spoke with passion as he discussed his feelings before the big game with FIFA. "It's difficult," he said with a broad smile and big eyes collect his thoughts before you proceed. "When you're a kid you dream in this situation and the dream goes on, when you play for your club and if you the national team." There is something, that stays with you for the rest of your life."

Reflect on how close he came not on the tournament as a whole, said El Kun: "always to the competition in the best possible condition to begin, but I could not in the warm-up games, due to the injury I picked up against Everton." I was able to recover, but just so you can get match-fit to play. I again got hurt here although it not so serious. I have recovered and now I want to just have a chance to play in the final."

A record, to set
After the meeting, the games against the Switzerland and Belgium, Aguero with eight minutes of game time in the semi-final against the Netherlands as a substitute and scored in the shootout, the Argentina in their fifth World Cup final and their first 24 years sent.

Strange for a player who hit 21 goals for La Albiceleste and their ninth highest scorer of all time, has found the striker in the network, World Cup matches in seven - three in South Africa 2010 and he has presented the four in Brazil. In contrast, Gonzalo Higuain, who has taken the same sum as Aguero, as a whole, has accumulated five goals in 10 World Cup games.

"I will try my best, like I always do, and I'll try to do, what I can play already in previous", said the Argentina No20 to touch this discrepancy.

Aware his tournament goal drought, Aguero also knows how much anticipation and excitement his team perform home brings back: "sometimes they understand not, because you are focusing on your own stuff, but when you see the pictures of your home, you will see, how big it is. The fans have been waiting for so long a performance."

Aguero, who turned 26 earlier in the tournament, knows exactly what's in store for Argentina's the Maracana on Sunday: "they have many FC Bayern Munich players, who have been together for a long time and know each other well. They can also be the final as they play used. You have experience.

"We have our game to play, which is to keep the ball, but we also keep a watchful eye on her attacking game, which is very difficult to stop."

What to wear whatever the German threat, Argentina will not be Aguero lacking in motivation, confirmed: "we have the opportunity, a dream to fulfill, in touch now distance." "We will give everything, what we do, to it happen and make us happy for the rest of our lives."

Beaten pair out to restore pride

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MATCHDAY PREVIEW – Brazil versus the Netherlands is a match-up fit for a Final and would have made a worthy climax to the 2014 FIFA World Cup™. Instead, the two teams will face off in the Play-off for Third Place, with both eager to restore a little pride after the heartbreak of their semi-final defeats.

The hosts, in particular, slipped to an unprecedented loss, losing focus in a punishing 7-1 reverse at the hands of Germany. For the record five-time champions and the nation that still exports a constant stream of talent, it was a painful end to their mission to erase memories of the 1950 Maracanazo on home soil. The watching world could only look on and wonder what had happened to the side that once enjoyed a surfeit of football artists admired across the globe. Missing the injured Neymar, billed as successor to the likes of Pele, Zico, Romario, Rivaldo and Ronaldo, A Seleção simply fell to pieces against Joachim Low's men. Captain Thiago Silva will aim to steady the ship after returning from suspension, however, and he hopes to give Brazil's crestfallen supporters something to smile about again with the small consolation of third place.

Disappointment reigns too in the Netherlands camp, with Louis van Gaal's side having made such a stunning start to their campaign by dispatching Spain 5-1. Likely to be contesting their final World Cup, senior stalwarts Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt and Nigel de Jong had all been hoping to steer the Oranje to their maiden triumph after a trio of runners-up spots. That wait goes on, and in truth the Dutch seemed to run out of steam towards the end, failing to find the net against Costa Rica or Argentina. Nevertheless, Van Gaal can still end his rein with a sense of satisfaction before he takes over at Manchester United and hands the baton to Guus Hiddink. Not only has he rebuilt the team since they lost all three group matches at UEFA EURO 2012, they remain unbeaten on his watch, with their penalty shoot-out loss going into the books as a draw. Leaving Brazil with the bronze medal, after taking silver in 2010, would help alleviate the prevailing sense of regret.

The match
Brazil-Netherlands, Estadio Nacional, Brasilia, 17.00 (local time)

Did you know?
Podium hopes: Brazil have disputed the Third Place Play-off on three previous occasions. A Seleção downed Sweden 4-2 in 1938 and Italy 2-1 in 1978, but finished on the losing side to Poland in 1974. As for the Netherlands, they will contest their 50th World Cup game looking to finish third on the podium for the first time, having succumbed 2-1 to Croatia in 1998.

Goalkeeping glory: The Netherlands have tended to bring the best out in goalkeepers at Brazil 2014, with the Budweiser Man of the Match award going to their opponents' custodian in their last three matches. Argentina's Sergio Romero took the honours in the semi-final, following on from Keylor Navas of Costa Rica and Mexico's Guillermo Ochoa – meaning that Julio Cesar would be well advised to stay on his toes.

Run over: Brazil's loss to Germany was their first competitive defeat on home soil in 64 games since they went down 3-1 to Peru in the Copa America on 30 September 1975. None of Luiz Felipe Scolari's squad were even alive at the time, but, as fate would have it, their painful last-four exit took place in the same stadium: the Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte.

Pozzo pedigree: With Scolari's charges now out, Vittorio Pozzo remains the only coach to have won a pair of World Cups, having steered Italy to glory in 1934 and 1938. Brazil's Mario Zagallo's also enjoyed a double taste of success, in 1970 and 1994, but for the latter tournament he served as an assistant to Carlos Alberto Parreira – who has been working alongside Scolari this year.

Suspended players

Check it out
The Netherlands are unsurprisingly devastated to have fallen short at the penultimate hurdle once again. Given the youthful nature of their squad, however, the Oranje have been keen to look for silver linings. As the defeated semi-finalists explained to FIFA, they will return home optimistic for the future, and satisfied that they gave their all.

For anyone who missed Brazil's historic 7-1 loss to Germany, meanwhile, spent time in the Seleção camp seeking out the reactions of players and staff alike. A sense of shock still lingers after 'The dream that disappeared in six minutes' – an incredible turn of events that even the most creative fiction writers could not have predicted.

On this day
Before Belo Horizonte, Brazil suffered their heaviest World Cup defeat at the Stade de France on 12 July 1998, when hosts France lifted the Trophy following a 3-0 success. Despite the one-sided scoreline, the South American giants fielded a fearsome line-up in Paris – and one that their fans today must look back on wistfully – with the likes of Claudio Taffarel, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Bebeto leading the charge. Brazil owed their spot in the showpiece to a win against the Netherlands in the semi-finals, having edged through 4-2 on penalties at the end of a 1-1 draw.

Play and win 
The three candidates for the Hyundai Young Player Award have been confirmed, so you now have until the final whistle on Sunday to guess whether Paul Pogba, Memphis Depay or Raphael Varane will win the trophy. Guess right and you could win one of 30 Hyundai premium prize sets!

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Muller versus Messi in numbers

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On track for a second consecutive adidas Golden Boot, Germany’s Thomas Muller is the leading light in Joachim Low’s side. With his fifth goal of these finals against Brazil, he took his place among a fabulous five of his countrymen (Miroslav Klose, Gerd Muller, Jurgen Klinsmann and Helmut Rahn) to reach double figures at the FIFA World Cup™.

There is one undisputed star for Argentina. The four-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi hopes to take his place among the pantheon of World Cup greats with an Argentina win in the Maracana. Will it be La Albiceleste’s No10 or Die Nationalmannschaft’s No13 who take the honours? takes a look at the numbers behind the stars ahead of their World Cup Final showdown.

Thomas Muller: 186cm
Lionel Messi: 169cm
Muller towers above Messi, standing at a little over 6ft tall, and he is also above the average height for players at Brazil 2014 (182cm). The diminutive Argentinian maestro famously took growth hormones on his arrival at Barcelona in his early teens, but still grew to just 5ft 7ins. This makes him two inches taller than his idol and Argentina’s last legendary No10 Diego Maradona, who knows all about handling the biggest of pressures despite the shortest of frames. “Is the pressure of carrying the hopes of a nation overpowering?” Maradona asked the Times of India recently. "No-one knows it better than Messi.”

Date of birth
Thomas Muller: 13 September 1989 (24 years old)
Lionel Messi: 24 June 1987 (27 years old)
Incredibly, Muller made his Germany debut just three months before South Africa 2010 kicked off and, at the age of 20, picked up the adidas Golden Boot and Hyundai Young Player Award at that tournament. This time around, he brings a wealth of experience, having won most major trophies in the domestic game with Bayern Munich. Almost three years his senior, Messi is playing at his third World Cup, having made his international debut in 2005. It was widely discussed before Brazil 2014 that Messi, who will turn 31 at the next finals, is in the prime of his career and will never have a better opportunity to truly shine on the global stage.

Squad number
Thomas Muller: 13
Lionel Messi: 10
Germany’s No13 this year will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of his namesake Gerd, who not only won the Golden Boot but also won the World Cup during his time as the main man in the German line-up. Thomas was handed the jersey after previous incumbent Michael Ballack was injured in the build-up to South Africa 2010. He relished having the shirt on his back, with that adidas Golden Boot in his first global finals. Messi also feels the weight of expectation due to previous occupants of his chosen number. Diego Maradona and the current Albiceleste No10 are the topic of much discussion as to which is the top player to have worn the coveted jersey. Maradona holds the advantage in the eyes of plenty of Argentines due to his World Cup win in 1986. Can Messi match him this year?

Record in Brazil 2014 qualifying
Thomas Muller: 4 goals in 10 games
Lionel Messi: 10 goals in 14 games
Germany scored the highest number of goals in European qualifying, with 36 shared out between ten different scorers. Muller was joined on four goals by Mario Gotze, Miroslav Klose and Andre Schurrle while Marco Reus and Mesut Ozil were the only Germans who scored more than Muller. Messi got the second-highest tally of goals in the entire Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign with only Deon McCaulay, Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez bagging more qualifying strikes than the prolific Barça man. It was no surprise that La Pulga grabbed a brace in the 5-2 win over Paraguay that saw his side book their ticket to Brazil.

Brazil 2014 goals (up to and including the semi-final)
Thomas Muller: 5
Lionel Messi: 4
There was a significantly-sized monkey on Messi’s back going into the tournament. He had not scored a World Cup goal in eight years since his sole strike at the 2006 finals, in which he became the youngest Argentinian World Cup goalscorer. The impatient Maracana crowd watched on in his side’s opening Brazil 2014 game against Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Messi delivered after the hour mark, driving past several defenders before smashing in off the post. He then scored one of the most memorable goals of the tournament, a long-range curler which broke down Iran’s stubborn defence. On top of that pair, he grabbed a brace in his side’s final Group F game against Nigeria which included a sublime free-kick.

Muller started with a bang, grabbing a hat-trick in his side’s opening 4-0 victory against Portugal. The devastating attacking performance by Germany set the tone for the rest of the tournament, and Muller was at the forefront, converting a penalty, lashing home a left-footed effort and poking home from close range. He then grabbed the decisive strike in his side’s final Group G match against USA before getting the ball rolling in Belo Horizonte, scoring his side’s first in their 7-1 demolition of Brazil.

Check out the World Cup statistics centre to compare these two, or any other players at the tournament, with detailed comparison analysis, including passes completed and distance covered, at your fingertips.

Schweinsteiger: We're under no pressure

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AppId is over the quota

Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger said on Saturday that his side will be under "no pressure" when they tackle Argentina in Sunday's FIFA World Cup™ Final at the Maracana.

Schweinsteiger told a press conference at the iconic Rio de Janeiro stadium: "We're looking forward to it. There's huge anticipation and joy. We have no pressure."

Striker Miroslav Klose is the only survivor in the Germany squad from the team that was beaten 2-0 by Brazil in the 2002 World Cup Final, but Schweinsteiger insists that his team-mates have sufficient experience of major games.

"We have lots of players among the 23 who've played in important finals and we know how to handle that," he said.

We're looking forward to it. There's huge anticipation and joy. We have no pressure.

Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany midfielder

"We have Miroslav Klose, who played in the final in 2002. Other players have played in finals with their clubs and have produced outstanding performances.

"We just have to think about the job we have to do. When the referee blows his whistle, we just have to concentrate on what makes us strong.

"Everything else around the game, we can take it in, but we have to keep it at a distance. Your head must be clear and concentrating only on football."

Germany are bidding to win their first World Cup since 1990, when a team managed by former captain Franz Beckenbauer beat Argentina 1-0 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Low: We can write history

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Joachim Low wants Germany to make history in the Maracana on Sunday and then dominate world football for many years to come. After their 7-1 victory against Brazil in the semi-final, Germany are favourites to beat Argentina and win the FIFA World Cup™ in Rio de Janeiro.

If Germany are successful, it will be the fourth time they have won the famous trophy, but it will be the only occasion they have triumphed on South American soil.

No European nation has won the tournament on this continent in four attempts. Czechoslovakia and Holland reached the final in 1962 and 1978 respectively, but Low hopes his team can go one better in Brazil this weekend.

"In the past we never had this, so we know we can write history," the Germany coach told a press conference on the eve of the final.

"Latin Americans, on this continent, have dominated all the time. So why can we not be the first? This could be considered an additional joy for us if we were to win as Europeans on Latin American soil."

Basanta: We have to enjoy the final

Argentina Defender Jose Maria Basanta believes that be team "by a magic wand touched been" and urged his colleagues to enjoy World Cup final against Germany on Sunday FIFA.

The left-back said Saturday's pre-game press conference at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, the prospect of a World Cup final was a dream.

"The dream is a dream that belongs to everyone," said Basanta. "We have been touched a wand and we have to enjoy this moment." It's a dream true once in life, but we have to enjoy it. It will be over very quickly."

Germany defeated Brazil 7-1 in the semi final, but Argentina went over six hours without conceding a goal, a goal and Basanta believes that defensive displays should pull his team heart from her.

"We have seen how Germany will play during the World Cup. They are a balanced team in all they do, "said the 30-year-old, who started the competition with Marcos Rojo link back.

We have a big dream, and we hope that we can implement it in the real world.

Jose Maria Basanta, Argentina Defender

"We also talk about emotional balance and this identifies Germany. You are one of the best teams in the world, but we also have our own thinking. I think the team to the knockout rounds have been very solid. We still not rooms left open for our opponents, and we need for tomorrow (Sunday). "

On Sunday, game won a repeat of the 1990 final in Rome, the Federal Republic of Germany 1-0, with a penalty, but Basanta dismissed suggestions, the Argentina revenge were on a mission.

"We want to write a new story," he said. "It was very painful, we know what happened. We have to be very focused, we're all motivated and we want a positive story tomorrow to make.

"I think it would be something nice for the people of Argentina with the Cup back. But we have one more step to take. We have a big dream and we hope that we can implement it in reality."

An evening of Russian culture at the Copacabana

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Russian melodies and traditional Russian cuisine adorned a fine, Brazilian Friday evening ahead of Sunday's historic Final between Germany and Argentina. The 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ Local Organising Committee (LOC) Chairman and Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko brought together his colleagues, figures from the football community and members of the press to provide a taster of what football fans can expect in four years' time, when the World Cup will be held on Russian soil for the first time.

FIFA president Joseph S. Blatter was among the distinguished guest to celebrate the transition between Brazil and Russia as World Cup host nations. The event was held on 11 July on the picturesque summer terrace of the Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro, located on the promenade of one of the world's most-prized beaches, Copacabana. Guests included members of the FIFA Executive Committee, representatives of the international football community and journalists, who are already showing a great interest in the next World Cup.

In an introductory word to guests, Mutko remarked on the successful organisation of the 2014 World Cup by his Brazilian colleagues and pledged that, four years from now, Russia would undoubtedly surprise all football fans with its trademark hospitality and an impeccably organised tournament.

“Four years ago, in December 2010, for the first time in history our nation was granted the right to hold a FIFA World Cup,” Russia 2018 LOC chairman Mutko reminded guests. “This decision by my colleagues in the FIFA Executive Committee is, without exaggeration, historic – in 2018 the World Cup will be held in the world's largest country, where people truly love and treasure football.

Welcoming conditions
"Believe me, we will do everything to create the most welcoming conditions for everyone taking part in the tournament – the teams, the international football families, partners and, of course, the hundreds of thousands of fans coming from all over the world.

"Today we are in the astonishingly beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, where football is the very soul of its people; its passion; almost a religion. I would like to congratulate my Brazilian colleagues on a wonderfully-organised tournament, whose incredible quality of football, emotion and surprises have touched us all.”

Melodic Russian ballads and soulful Kuban Cossack songs filled the air as guests enjoyed the Russian evening at the Copacabana Palace hotel, and everyone had the opportunity to sample Russian cuisine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to arrive in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday to watch the FIFA World Cup Final at the Maracanã stadium, and will take part in the hosting rights handover ceremony from Brazil to Russia, which will take place before the match.

Russia 2018 will feature 11 host cities: Moscow, St Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Saransk, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Sochi and Ekaterinburg. 

A fresh start, and some consolation, for Brazil

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In his second spell as coach of Brazil, Luiz Felipe Scolari has amassed a record of 19 wins, six draws and three defeats, with 70 goals scored and just 26 conceded. Since winning the FIFA Confederations Cup last year, his team have suffered just one defeat in 10 games. Unfortunately, that turned out to be as costly as it was painful: the harrowing 7-1 loss against Germany last Tuesday. The result ended a 64 year dream of winning the World Cup on home soil.

Having had just four days to recover from the defeat, Brazil now take on the Netherlands in Brasilia in the Play-Off for Third Place. While coming third is important, the team will have another source of motivation when they take the field. It is a chance for Scolari and his players to validate the work they have invested in a campaign in which the team achieved a winning percentage of 75%, yet still finished two steps away from their goal.

"Now we have to focus on the goal of coming third," said Scolari at a press conference. "We know that even a win won’t take away the disappointment, but we have to have objectives. We couldn’t achieve our aim of reaching the final, so now we have to play for a smaller dream.”

Historical precedents
This will be Brazil’s fourth appearance in the Third Place Play-Off. Interestingly, there are similarities between the current campaign and those of 1938, 1974 and 1978, the other years when Brazil played in the podium decider - with the crucial difference that the team was not the host nation on those occasions.

The 1938 FIFA World Cup was when Brazil first announced itself to the world as a major footballing power. After overcoming Poland and Czechoslovakia in the knockout stages, the team was eventually defeated 2-1 by eventual champions Italy in the semi-final. Interestingly, Brazil’s best player, Leonidas da Silva, was ruled out of that match due to injury problems, just like Neymar this year. Unlike the young striker, however, the Black Diamond recovered in time to play in his team’s last match, and scored two goals in a 4-2 win over Sweden. He eventually finished the tournament as top goalscorer with seven goals.

By the time the 1974 World Cup in Germany came around, the structure of the tournament had changed. The semi-final stage consisted of two groups of four teams, with Brazil facing Argentina, East Germany and the Netherlands. In the last match of the group, the reigning world champions were beaten by the fast-emerging “Clockwork Orange,” as the Dutch team was known. Although the 2-0 scoreline was far less impressive than what the Germans were able to achieve 40 years later, the result left the Brazilians equally stunned, coming just days after coach Mario Zagallo had guaranteed his team would win. In their final game in the tournament, Brazil lost again, this time 1-0 to Poland.

This same tournament structure was used at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. In the second phase Brazil were placed in a group with the host nation, Poland and Peru. Despite remaining unbeaten, Brazil were eliminated and had to watch as Argentina advanced to the final. The similarity between that year and the current campaign was the consistency of the team’s results, with coach Claudio Coutinho announcing he was pleased with his work even if the title had eluded his team. In the battle for third place, Brazil managed to overcome their disappointment by beating Italy 2-1, with a memorable goal from full-back Nelinho.

Starting Over
Three Third Place Play-Offs then, and two symbolic bronze medals for Brazil. Now it is the turn of Scolari's team to try to say farewell with dignity, in front of fans who never turned their backs on their team, even during its darkest moments.

“We didn’t expect such a catastrophic defeat, in terms of the number of goals we conceded. But don’t forget that this is the first time the team has reached the World Cup semi-final since 2002," recalls the coach. "It was a bad defeat, six minutes of total meltdown. If I knew how it happened I’d tell you, but I don’t.”

Scolari knows that many of the current group have a long future ahead with A Seleção. Now it is time to get back on track against the Netherlands. "Life goes on. It isn’t just about the defeats," concluded Scolari. "These players will continue to give everything for Brazil. At least 70 per cent of them will be back in 2018, with a different mind-set.”

Sabella: We have a perfect match to play

Alejandro Sabella said that his side will need to overcome a perfect game Favorites Germany and win the FIFA World Cup ™ for a third time in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday to play.

The Argentina coach highlighted the dangers, which can represent Germany and feels that his side to give a complete performance, need to defeat them.

"We have to stay very focused and connect all spaces, for they opened. "Most importantly, we cheap way of the ball, not giving", said the 59-year-old. "Germany are always very strong, physically and tactically. For this reason, they are the team that has won the most titles with Brazil and Italy.

"they use the ball very well and playing the ball between the lines. You use the room full back very well, especially with (Philipp) Lahm. We have a perfect match to play."

Germany are always very strong, physically and tactically. For this reason, they are the team that has won the most titles with Brazil and Italy.

Alejandro Sabella, opponents Germany

On the Sunday meeting will be held for the third time, that the two countries in a final of the World Cup with Argentina in 1986 won 3-2 and West Germany met revenge to win 1-0, in 1990. Argentina Captain Lionel Messi hopes to ensure Maradonass feats in 86 to his place among the greatest players of all time and Sabella emulate hopes that the signs are good for a repeat result.

"It is true there are some parallels, we hope that the situation be reviewed against a very strong opponent."

The opposite of what Sabella page was expected before the tournament, Argentina have reached the finals based on their strong defensive record that won't admit it in 330 minutes of football in the knockout stage. Sabella hailed the tactical discipline of the side, which has compensated for its lack of firepower because of injuries from Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero.

"It is the great merit of players who have worked very hard," he added. "Education has also changed which has allowed us to fully back more protect and close out of the room." That gave us more balance."

Graduation ceremony to celebrate Brazil 2014 in the way

Before the year 2014 FIFA World Cup ™ final passage at the Maracana in Rio De Janeiro on Sunday, is a special closing ceremony with about 1,000 people that greatest values celebrate the world's most popular sport, as the tournament approaches its inevitable climax.

An integral part of which is competition in Brazil, but before that launches football and the masters decided meet South American rivals Argentina in the showpiece European heavyweights Germany, an 18-minute show in the stadium will pay tribute to the game and the most important symbols.

Starting with an on pitch expression of the values of sport through four characters - freedom, solidarity, passion and diversity - the ceremony is took part then included representations of all 32 teams in this World Cup, with a special focus on the two finalists: Joachim low's team and Alejandro Sabellas Albiceleste.

Set to a soundtrack of Samba music, involving a cast of 400 persons and with GRES Pinelo stands do Rio Grande, a special reference to the coveted trophy at the Center, while a unique tribute to football symbolically unites the two sides fight to be crowned winner, when the full-time whistle in Rio is blown.

The Brazil 2014 closing ceremony close with a spectacular combination of music: Shakira, Carlinhos Brown and run "Dare"; Alexandre Pires, Carlos Santana and Wyclef Jean offer an interpretation of the World Cup anthem "we will find A way"; Furthermore, a medley of Brazilian songs courtesy of Pires and Ivete Sangalo.

Dutch to Brazil seal third place

The Netherlands secured consolation of third place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup ™ courtesy of a simple 3-0 victory over Brazil at the Estadio Nacional.

Fees for home - and in the case of trainer jobs in club football at Manchester drive recording a third successive clean sheet, Louis van Gaal United – avoid defeat in standard or extra time. For Luiz Felipe Scolari, there were men but to celebrate little.

Perhaps the sharpest edges to the representations of the Brazilian anthem, lacked the spine tingling, but voices have been raised before the game as A selection was looking for redemption. Still, the hopes of lasting memories smashed degradation by Germany within 90 seconds after kick-off in Brasilia in their semi-final.

Robin van Persie's slide rule pass into the left channel on the hosts defence married, has a blisteringly fast Arjen Robben dash in from the right. The winger was then torn down in pace Captain Thiago Silva turns, as he was dangerous to shoot at a distance. A penalty was the judgment of the referee, and Van Persie found above with aplomb.

After 17 minutes was line up 2: 0 Jonathan de Guzmán, a late inclusion in Van Gaal after a Wesley Sneijder injury during the warm-up, collected a Robben pass and drove to the byline. Once he slid there a seemingly harmless cross into the area only for David Luiz from top blind, refrained a touch his attempted directly on Daley control, others set and then calmly found the roof of the net.

Oscar haul car in the palms of Jasper Cillessen, de Guzman cut off from a central position to high to hit by more effective work set up by Robben, and Georginio Wijnaldum had to align perfectly to the rear post removed kick pesky look that kindly went in the direction of Paulinho. Still, another diabolical Oscar duty piece somehow deprived his teammates after a Luiz Gustavo-flick on.

Interested in increasing his World Cup goal tally at the start of the second half, Robben with a quick one-two with blind from a free-kick scenario completed and in the Brazil box powered; Compensation, however, Silva was quick to block sliding doors, an explosion of the 30-year old as Julio Cesar armed to prevent another addition to the scoresheet.

Ramires earned single-handedly room after a shot on Cillessen shortly before the hour mark through skip to a challenge by Defender Ron Vlaar to the edge of the Dutch territory, but the Chelsea midfielder dragged his effort on the left side of the goal. Next, the Netherlands goalkeeper was unconcerned by Charles Deadball--Pack drivers.

I looking for an injection of creativity and invention, Scolari introduced Hernanes and later Hulk procedure, but the home nation filled with frustration at almost every corner. If in the freedom on the left 10 minutes on the clock, the playmaker disappointingly, curled high and far from the post long Oscar scurry.

Wijnaldum, in fact, added more luster of the place reference for van Gaal team in the first minute of stoppage time, fire home low at the near post after in central position in the penalty area of unmarked links and by a delivery from the right flank by Daryl Janmaat replacement found.

So the history books shows, stopping the third Dutchman at the 20th Edition of the World Cup downs Brazil in fourth place. Now the focus shifts here and everywhere all over the world to the last remaining results be decided, on the biggest stage in the world of football - with Argentina and Germany in the competition for the trophy on Sunday.

Dunga: Das Spiel ist dynamischer geworden.

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Such is the weight of expectation on Brazil that any FIFA World Cup™ campaign that ends in anything other than triumph and the world title is regarded as a total failure. As a former Seleção player and coach, Dunga knows all about that, having come in for considerable criticism when his largely successful four-year stint in charge of the side ended with defeat to the Netherlands in the quarter-finals at South Africa 2010.

Now on the outside looking in, in his capacity as a TV commentator at Brazil 2014, Dunga has some interesting views to offer on the hosts’ shock semi-final defeat to Germany, which he expressed in a lengthy interview with Also up for discussion was the quality of the football that has been played at the tournament so far, most notably by Sunday’s two finalists, Germany and Argentina. As the previous coach who is now on the sidelines supporting the team, what’s your view of Brazil’s first-half performance against Germany?
Dunga: I think Germany did what Brazil used to do a long time ago: set up a triangle on one side of the pitch and then switch the play with 40 and 50-metre passes. The advantage they had was that they had the ideal player on the other side in [Thomas] Muller, who quick enough and skilful enough to keep the play moving. Some might say that they didn’t really do anything out of the ordinary or exceptional – except that they did, because they did what every team dreams of doing. Germany played as a unit. They got forward, played with depth and at pace and got back to defend at the right times. And if you look at the goals, you’ll see that the Brazilians always had a numerical advantage. The thing was, the players were always four or five metres away. Leaving that kind of space can be fatal these days, when you really have to be compact.

Some people have said that Germany haven’t really played that well, until the Brazil game at least. What is it that finally allowed them to express themselves and play the kind of football we’ve all been expecting?
Germany have worked things out as the tournament has progressed and they got their team right after beating Algeria, a game in which they had a lot of problems. He (coach Joachim Low) had [Philipp] Lahm in midfield and then switched him to full-back, where he’s been outstanding. He put [Sami] Khedira in the middle with [Bastian] Schweinsteiger, played a faster man in defence, namely [Mats] Hummels, and brought [Miroslav] Klose into the attack. He’s also got Schweinsteiger running things in midfield, both when it comes to defending and pressing and to dictating the pace. He knows when to sit tight and take up position between the two central defenders and when to get forward and press. You have to understand that a national team is not a collection of the best players but the players who fit in with the kind of football you’re trying to play. There isn’t that much difference between sides any more. The problem is that here in Brazil we think that exceptionally talented players don’t have any kind of tactical function to perform. It’s that kind of mentality that we need to change.

They did what every team dreams of doing. Germany played as a unit.

Dunga on Germany during the 7-1 defeat of Brazil

Do you think that the Confederations Cup only increased the pressure on the players or did it make people believe the team was ready to win the World Cup?
Not really. Brazil are always among the favourites, whatever the competition, and players have to be able to deal with that pressure. We’ve got players who are with the best clubs in the world, like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Chelsea, and they’re used to winning. I think winning the Confederations Cup gave them more self-confidence. It was a good thing it happened because it calmed a lot of the fears people had about the World Cup. In the end, the fans warmed to A Seleção and supported them in every game, even in the match against Germany. I’ve had some very different experiences, including a qualifier against Argentina in Minas, where we were booed for the whole 90 minutes. This time there was none of that.

The 2010 defeat brought about change in the national team, and the same is probably going to happen again now. What lessons do you think can be learned from what’s just happened?
Well, that’s a question for the people on the inside. The thing is, any national team heading into a World Cup has to have a programme in place and decisions have to be respected. I took a lot of criticism for organising so many training camps, but what people don’t understand is that you don’t have much time to work with, so you have to make the most of it. A World Cup is hard work for a national team and a party for everyone else on the outside. That means you have to make a very clear distinction between the two because it’s a huge challenge. There’ll be arguments, but just because you lose doesn’t mean to say that everything’s been a mess. There are a lot of good things that need to be built on.

The Netherlands, who beat Brazil in 2010, have kept their core of experienced players together and still managed to achieve continuity, as have Germany. Do you think the team needs to maintain ties with the old generation, for the experience they have?
Like I said, just because you lose doesn’t mean to say that everything has been a disaster. And just because a player is old doesn’t mean to say he has nothing left to offer. Look at Klose. He’s 36 and he’s the highest goalscorer in the history of the World Cup. What you need to do, then, is take a step back and strike a balance between new faces and experienced players who can take responsibility when things get tough, be leaders on the pitch and get the side together as one to prevent the kind of disaster that just happened to A Seleção.

A World Cup is hard work for a national team and a party for everyone else on the outside.

Dunga on the challenges teams face during a World Cup

You’re impressed by Germany, but how do you see Argentina ahead of the Final? Do they have the tactical maturity to win the title?
I think it’s a similar situation. Argentina have been working things out as the World Cup has progressed and they’ve made some changes that have worked well for them. For example, [Javier] Mascherano was very much on his own in the midfield before, but now that they’ve got someone else in there alongside him, they look a lot stronger. [Martin] Demichelis has added a bit of character and the pieces are fitting in. [Ezequiel] Lavezzi has also changed his position as a result, and is tracking back a little bit more. Up front they’ve got [Lionel] Messi, [Gonzalo] Higuain and Lavezzi, so they don’t need much more there. You need space to be able to attack at pace and keep things moving.

Do you think this World Cup has seen the emergence of a new trend in football, with teams looking to get forward more and try to score more?
Look, just because you’ve got three or four players up front, it doesn’t mean to say you’re playing a more attacking game. You can have one or no players at all and yet still get forward with four or five men. Those concepts have all been undermined at this World Cup. The only team that’s played with three up front and pressed the whole time were Chile, but that’s because of the type of players they’re got. They knew that defensively that don’t have players who can go in hard, so they responded by attacking. In general I think the trend is to have players who are more offensive and faster and who look to pounce on the mistakes opponents make. We’ve seen a lot of goals come about here because forwards are getting more and more effective and mobile. Today’s system, with everyone marking together and dropping back in midfield to close down the space and then attacking at pace when they win the ball back, is one that brings results. Generally speaking the game’s become more dynamic now.