Will the Real Argentina Please Stand Up?

When yesterday evening’s international friendly between Germany and Argentina was announced months before the World Cup, it is unlikely that either side envisaged it would represent a rematch of the Brazil 2014 final just over 50 days later.

With both teams retaining roughly half the players that started in Rio – Germany 4 and Argentina 5 – it was obvious the game wouldn’t be a carbon copy of the final, but what stylistic differences can we see when contrasting Germany’s 1-0 extra time win and the 4-2 pounding handed out by Argentina in Dusseldorf last night?

While Argentina were missing their most famous player, Lionel Messi, they welcomed back an arguably more influential player; Angel Di Maria, who weighed in with 3 assists and a goal.

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The data suggests that we saw an Argentina improvement, rather than a German decline since the showpiece in Brazil. Germany’s ‘Shot Index’ – which takes into account the level of threat posed by their attempts on goal – dropped from 5.96 in the final to 5.04 in the friendly. Meanwhile Argentina enjoyed a huge jump from 3.24 in the final to 11.98 in the friendly.

From Argentina’s 10 total shots last night, 7 of them were classed as ‘dangerous’ with 4 finding the back of the net. In the final, only 1 of their 9 attempts on goal fell into the ‘dangerous’ category.
Even with the crafty Di Maria, Argentina failed to beat the number of good scoring chances they created in their World Cup effort. They created 13 scoring chances in Germany compared to 16 during their final game in Brazil – even taking into account the added 30 mins for extra time, this is surprising.

The crucial difference then, was in Argentina’s decision making inside the box. In the final, they only had 3 efforts from 16 good scoring chances, while in the friendly, they shot 9 times when in a promising position from which to score.

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Germany were the dominant side in terms of possession in Rio, with a 60-40 share of ‘live ball’ possession. As a result, Argentina counter-attacked frequently in the final, often hitting long balls forward in search of their attackers. Yesterday’s game saw a return to parity in terms of possession (just 51-49 ‘live ball’ possession to Germany), with a lot less long balls coming from Argentina – they hit only 4 long balls over 90 mins yesterday, compared to 18 over 120 mins of the final.

Despite goals from World Cup heroes Andre Schurrle and Mario Gotze, Germany don’t deserve a huge amount of credit for their attacking efforts. In fact they were presented with 6 dangerous situations around the box thanks to Argentinian defensive errors.

To summarise, although Argentina improved, it appears with a shored up defence they could have performed even better. All this reinforces the view that the Argentina we saw beaten by Joachim Low’s men in the World Cup final was a pale imitation of this football giant at its best.

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