Rio de Janeiro – Lionel Messi will attempt to emulate his idol Diego Maradona on Sunday as he leads Argentina into battle against Germany in a heavyweight World Cup final pitting Europe against South America.
Rio de Janeiro’s famous Maracana Stadium is the setting for the eagerly anticipated final, which kicks off before 73 500 fans and an estimated global television audience of about a billion.
Germany, riding a wave of momentum following their 7-1 demolition of Brazil in the semi-finals, start as favourites to become the first side from Europe ever to win a World Cup in Latin America.
But standing in their way is an Argentina side captained by Messi, the four-time World Footballer of the Year who is chasing a place alongside Maradona and Pele as the greatest players to have won the sport’s biggest prize.
“Tomorrow, we will play the most important match of our lives for our country,” Messi wrote in a message on his official Facebook page late Saturday.
“My dreams and my hopes are being fulfilled due to the hard work and sacrifice of a team that has given everything from match one.
“We knew it was possible. Our people, the Argentines, they have carried us here. But the dream is not over yet. Tomorrow we want to win, and we are ready!”
About 100 000 Argentines are estimated to have flooded into Rio to support their team ahead of the final.
Argentina’s coach Alejandro Sabella said the South Americans will have to produce a perfect game to overcome the talented Germans.
“Germany are always very strong physically and tactically. For that reason they are the team that has won most titles along with Brazil and Italy.
“They use the ball very well and play the ball between the lines. They also use the space behind full-backs very well, especially with (Philipp) Lahm. We have to play a perfect match.”
Sabella meanwhile acknowledged the similarities between Sunday’s final and the climax to the 1986 tournament, when Maradona led Argentina to a 3-2 victory over West Germany.
“It is true there are certain parallels and we hope the situation repeats itself against a very strong opponent,” he said.
Germany coach Joachim Loew believes his team is ready to claim a place in history as they attempt to end a run of four major tournaments where they have reached either the semi-finals or the final only to fall short.
“Regardless of what has happened in the past, it is a matter of winning now and we know we can write history, because Latin American sides have been able to dominate on home soil,” said Loew.
“And why not? It would be an extra joy for us if we were able to win the title on South American soil.”
Brazilian authorities are preparing their biggest ever security operation for the final with nearly 25 800 police, soldiers and private security guards on duty in the city and at the Maracana.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, whose country will host the 2018 World Cup finals, will join Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff for the game.
“We have from today the biggest security operation that the city, the country, has ever seen,” said Rio state security secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame.
In a bid to avoid violence, bars around the Maracana stadium will be ordered to stop selling alcohol two hours before Sunday’s match. Police blockades around the stadium were in place on Saturday.
Rousseff meanwhile basked in the glow of what has been a largely trouble-free tournament, and will be remembered as one of the most successful World Cups in history despite doom-laden predictions before the finals kicked off last month.
“We were able to do the Cup even though they said it would be chaos,” Rousseff said. “They said it would be horrific.” – Sapa-AFP