Argentina and Germany have clashed twice before in the World Cup final – squaring off in consecutive tournaments in 1986 and 1990. In the first matchup, Argentina won 3-2 and in the second meeting, the Germans (then representing West Germany) came out on top 1-0. So whoever comes out on top at the Maracana Stadium on July 13 will have bragging rights.
This decisive match will also add to the tally of one of these soccer powerhouses. Argentina is vying for its third World Cup trophy, while Germany is gunning for championship No. 4.
In this June 29, 1986, file photo, Diego Maradona, holds up the trophy, after Argentina beat West Germany 3-2 in their World Cup soccer final match, at the Atzeca Stadium, in Mexico City.
Messi looks to cement his legacy
Lionel Messi just turned 27 years old, but he's already firmly in the "greatest player of all time" debates in pubs worldwide. Messi is the first soccer player in history to win four Ballons d'Or (the FIFA equivalent to an MVP award). The only thing missing from his resume? A World Cup championship.
While Messi hasn't scored in the three knockout games, his four goals in the group stage reminded everyone of why he's a four-time world player of the year. For Argentina to have a chance, Messi will have to create goals - either for himself or for his teammates.
Photo: Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring against Uruguay during their Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup South American qualifier football match at Malvinas Argentinas stadium in Mendoza, some 1050 km west of Buenos Aires, on October 12, 2012.
Germany's ruthless efficiency
"Wächst die Ehre spannenlang wächst die Thorheit ellenlang." The loose translation of this German proverb: Stay disciplined – or else.
The German team is known for discipline and efficiency, playing together as a well-oiled machine. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira shore things up defensively while Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozil direct most of the attacks going forward. Germany's ruthless display against Brazil was orchestrated by the clinical efficiency of its midfield, and a similar display on Sunday might just be too much for Argentina to handle as well.
Photo: Brazil's forward Fred (C) runs with the ball at (L/R): Germany's defender Mats Hummels, Germany's defender Jerome Boateng and Germany's midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger during the semi-final football match between Brazil and Germany at The Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte on July 8, 2014, during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Fast starts versus late strikes
In this World Cup, the Germans have wasted no time finding the back of the net. In its semifinal demolition of Brazil, Thomas Muller scored just 11 minutes into the match, triggering an onslaught of five first-half goals. Even when it only scored once against France in the quarterfinals, the goal came quickly – just 13 minutes in.
By contrast, Argentina has had a flair for late-game heroics. The team failed to score during regulation in its semifinal against the Netherlands, but won in dramatic fashion on penalty kicks. In the knockout round against Switzerland, Messi set up a shot for Angel Di Maria, who buried it in the net – after 117 minutes of scoreless football.
And of course, there was Messi's strike in the first minute of stoppage time that spared Argentina a disappointing (and shocking) scoreless draw against Iran during group play.
Photo: Argentina's Lionel Messi (top R) celebrates after teammate Angel Di Maria (not pictured) scored a goal during extra time in their 2014 World Cup round of 16 game against Switzerland at the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo July 1, 2014.
Who will Brazilians root for?
It's a safe bet that many Brazilians – already crestfallen by their painful loss to Germany in the semifinals – were equally pained by watching bitter rival Argentina advance to the World Cup final. So it's no surprise which team will be getting the most support from the host nation. "Now I'm German," one depressed Brazilian told AFP this week.
Still, it's worth noting that every World Cup hosted on Latin American soil has been won by a Latin American country. Argentina is the last such squad standing and a win by Messi and company may salvage some regional pride. As one Brazilian bank worker told AFP: "Argentina is a neighbor. I want South America to win. I was more scared of losing the third-place game to Argentina."
Photo: Brazil fans react during the 2014 World Cup semi-finals between Brazil and Germany at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte July 8, 2014.
Before the U.S. played Germany in its Group G finale, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann complained that Germany had more time to rest and an easier travel schedule than his squad. "Everything was done for the big favorites," he said.
Well guess what? Germany will have a rest advantage heading into the World Cup final at Maracana Stadium in Rio. (Germany played its semifinal Tuesday in Belo Horizontal while Argentina played its last match on Wednesday in Sao Paulo). Argentina may also be at a disadvantage on the injury front. Javier Mascherano and Pablo Zabaleta both sustained serious blows to their heads in the semifinal game.
Photo: Germany's coach Joachim Loew listens to head match analyst Urs Siegenthaler (L) as they walk on the beach in front of their base camp Campo Bahia, in the village of Santo Andre north of Porto Seguro July 10, 2014.
Papal rooting interests
When the World Cup kicked off last month, Pope Francis wasn't shy about professing his love of the soccer tournament and his allegiance to the Argentine soccer team. But will he and his German predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, get together to watch their home teams in the World Cup final? Not likely, the Vatican says.
Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that the hour of the final is late for Francis' routine, and acknowledged with a chuckle that Benedict wasn't known as an avid sports fan.Still, he didn't rule anything out, saying, "we'll see in the coming days."
Pope Francis has already given his word that there would be no papal intervention in Argentina's fortunes, promising he wouldn't pray for any team. German-born Benedict's interests are known to lean more toward intellectual than athletic pursuits.
Photo: An Argentina fan dressed as the Pope celebrates after defeating the Netherlands in a penalty shootout during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Semi Final match between the Netherlands and Argentina at Arena de Sao Paulo on July 9, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The "curse" of Mick Jagger
It was bad enough that Mick Jagger was blamed for supporting teams in the World Cup that ended up losing. Now the Rolling Stones singer is being blamed for a loss merely because he showed up to a game.
Billboard reports Brazil fans are pinning their frustrations over a 7-1 loss to Germany on Jagger because he watched Tuesday's game from a VIP box. Some Brazilian fans have made cardboard cutouts of Jagger wearing the opposing team's shirts, and other have nicknamed him "the jinx." Jagger supports England but that team was knocked out by Uruguay. He said Italy would defeat Uruguay, but that was incorrect. He predicted Portugal would win it all.
At the 2010 World Cup, Jagger attended a Team USA game with Bill Clinton. You can probably guess what happened.
Photo: Fans hold up a cut-out of singer Mick Jagger as they cheer their team on before the start of the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals between Brazil and Colombia at the Castelao arena in Fortaleza July 4, 2014.