World Cup: Argentina, Germany start fine tuning for title match
By Julian Linden
RIO DE JANEIRO — Argentina and Germany were both back at work on Thursday, secretly hatching plans for Sunday’s World Cup final as Uruguay striker Luis Suarez lost his appeal against his ban for biting.
While their contrasting styles promise a classic battle between Europe and South America, Argentina and Germany have plenty to think about as they put the finishing touches to their preparations.
Lionel Messi and his Argentina team mates had a light workout after they returned to their base camp in Belo Horizonte after Wednesday’s dramatic penalty shootout win over the Netherlands.
Argentina winger Angel Di Maria joined the training session in the hope of being able to play in the final despite suffering a thigh injury just days ago.
Di Maria, the South Americans’ most creative player after Messi, hurt a muscle when shooting at goal during the quarter-final win over Belgium.
He jogged lightly but is still racing against the clock to be ready, although striker Sergio Aguero’s full recovery from a muscle strain has given Argentina a boost.
“We have to win and it doesn’t matter if we play well or not,” Aguero said.
“This is the game we have all wanted to play since we left Buenos Aires, and against an aggressive and tough opponent.”
Germany were also back on the training pitch at their secluded base camp in Santo Andre after taking Wednesday off following their 7-1 thrashing of host-nation Brazil on Tuesday.
Defender Mats Hummels was cleared to rejoin his team mates after undergoing treatment for a knee injury that prompted him to miss the second half against Brazil.
With the team only having a gentle run-out, Germany’s assistant coach Hansi Flick said Hummels was free to do what he wanted.
“All the players will be able to train, whether it’s on an exercise bike or on the pitch — whichever they prefer,” Flick said. “It’s up to each individual to decide what they want to do in training.”
Germany’s biggest challenge remains how to contain Messi, who has been heavily marked throughout the tournament but still looms as the big danger.
The Germans sat down together to watch the second semi-final and were impressed at how the Dutch managed to neutralize Messi.
“We’ve also got a plan,” Flick told reporters. “But we’re not going to reveal that here to you.”
Preparations were also underway for the third-place playoff in Brasilia on Saturday with Brazil and the Netherlands in very different states of mind.
The hosts are under enormous pressure to gain a minor consolation win following the Germany debacle, while Dutch coach Louis van Gaal said he did not believe the playoff match should be played so his side may struggle for motivation.
For most Brazilians, the prospect of watching their traditional rivals Argentine play in the final has only added to their humiliation but injured Brazil striker Neymar said he would be supporting his fellow south Americans.
“I always said I wanted Argentina to get to the final because Brazil would be there but it never worked out like that,” said Neymar, whose World Cup was cut short when he broke a bone in his back against Colombia.
“I still want them there because my two (Barcelona) team mates are there, Messi and (Javier) Mascherano, and I hope they win.”
An emotional Neymar cried as he recalled the high challenge from Colombia defender Juan Zuniga which ruled him out of the tournament with a back injury.
“If it had been another two centimeters I could be in a wheelchair today,” Neymar said.
Away from the pitch, Suarez, banned from all soccer activity for four months and nine competitive internationals for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini during the World, lost his appeal.
FIFA rejected the appeal filed by the Uruguayan Football Association (AUF), although it can still take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), a FIFA spokeswoman said.
Police in Rio were searching for the chief executive of a Swiss hospitality company implicated by an investigation into the illegal resale of VIP World Cup tickets.
After a court ordered the arrest of the executive and the continued detention of 10 other suspects already held in the probe, police were unable to find Ray Whelan, of MATCH Services, a company contracted by tournament organizers to arrange ticketing and hospitality packages.
Whelan, who was briefly arrested earlier in the week and released pending a court order, was not present when police arrived at the luxurious beachside hotel where he had been staying in Rio.
Police told Globo, Brazil’s biggest television network, that Whelan, who has denied any wrongdoing, was filmed leaving through a back door on hotel security footage.