Stage set for host nation's nightmare final

Stage set for host nation's nightmare final

Just when Brazilians thought it couldn’t get any worse after Tuesday night’s total humiliation in Belo Horizonte, they must now dry their tears and play host to their final from hell.

Not even in the nation’s worst nightmares did it envisage an ending like this: their hated continental rivals and the team most likely to inherit their mantle as the sport’s spiritual home set to duel at the Maracana for its ultimate prize.

Argentina has already tasted the glory of a World Cup win on home soil, having extinguished Brazil’s hopes with a controversial 6-0 win over Peru in their final group game into the bargain. Many Argentinians would regard a win on Brazilian turf with equal acclaim.

But for Brazilians to lend their support to the Germans would be to provide a tacit acknowledgement that the long-assumed balance of world football power has shifted, perhaps for good, to continental Europe.

As well as lifting Miroslav Klose over Ronaldo as the World Cup finals’ all-time leading scorer, the Germans’ extraordinary 7-1 semi-final win also helped them eclipse the hosts by reaching their eighth all-time final.

In a sense, the Brazilians’ present-day dilemma provides a throwback to the English anguish which greeted the consecutive World Cup finals between Germany and Argentina in the 1986 and 1990 competitions.

A mixture of historical rivalry and Hands-of-God made it difficult to pick sides even if there was plenty of grudging admiration for the ingenious late pass by Diego Maradona which sent Jorge Burruchaga charging clear to claim a 3-2 win for the South Americans in the Azteca Stadium.

Four years later, the two nations contrived to produce what was almost certainly the worst World Cup final of all time, a late Andreas Brehme penalty winning it for the Germans in a game which saw Argentinian pair Pedro Monzon and Gustavo Dezotti both sent off.

How times have changed. Outside Brazil, at least, the admiration for the two teams who will contest the 2014 final in the Maracana on Sunday is no longer grudging.

The Germans’ performances have drawn praise from all quarters and they will arguably kick off in the unlikely role of the neutrals’ favourites against an Argentina side for whom the mere presence of Lionel Messi is enough to inspire slavers of anticipation.

Messi looked strangely off-cue as he failed to dismantle a stubborn Dutch rearguard in Wednesday night’s dismal semi-final but his hunger to play a starring role on centre stage was plain to see after the penalty shoot-out drama.

If Brazil’s semi-final meltdown left its status as the spiritual home temporarily untenable, it also inspired a whole new opportunity. Whisper it quietly on the streets of Rio, but the exciting and unpredictable 2014 World Cup has served up a fitting finale.

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