To some die-hard England fans it will be an impossible choice: should you support Germany or Argentina in tomorrow’s World Cup final? Our own team’s involvement in the tournament is a distant memory, but sitting on the sidelines is no way to enjoy the climax of one of the most thrilling World Cups in recent memory.
So: how do you decide? Our fact panel may help you to rationalise the decision, but the basic difficulty remains: you are picking between two traditional enemies.
Forgiveness will be key. Even if we agree that it’s best not to mention any wars, there are decades of on-pitch conflict to take into account. It goes back at least as far as the 1966 World Cup, when England manager Sir Alf Ramsey called the Argentine players “animals” before England went on to beat Germany in the final, helped by a disputed goal.
Since then, both teams have had more than enough revenge: in Argentina’s case with with Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” in 1986 and that incident with Diego Simeone and David Beckham in 1998. As for Germany, well, they’ve been punishing us ever since, not least in penalty shoot-outs.
Of course, it’s time to move on now – but in which direction? Whom do you forgive first? Some may be swayed by the thought that Germany is the UK’s number one trading partner, which has to count for something – whereas our trading relationship with Argentina is based on some historic arms sales and a branch of Harrods in Buenos Aires. But perhaps that’s too unromantic as the basis for such a choice.
World Cup finals - In pictures
World Cup finals - In pictures
1/19 1930: Uruguay 4-2 Argentina
The first World Cup final set a tough act for subsequent games to follow. Before a crowd of 93000 adoring fans in the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, hosts Uruguay trailed 2-1 at half-time against their bitter neighbours Uruguay but clawed their way back to win 4-2. Thousands of Argentine supporters had made the short journey across the River Plate to the Uruguayan capital in the expectation of seeing their heroes victorious. They had to wait a little while, however- the final was delayed after both teams insisted upon using their own ball.
2/19 1934: Italy 2-1 Czechoslovakia
The second World Cup final was the first that failed to be decided within 90 minutes. Again the host nation made it to the final in Rome, where they were watched by Benito Mussolini and tens of thousands of screaming tifosi. The technical Czechs struck first through winger Antonin Puc and held on until the 81st minute, when the Argentine-born Raimundo Orsi curled in an equaliser. With the great Giuseppe Meazza limping, Italy looked in dire straits heading into extra-time- but in the 95th minute they forced an unlikely winner.
3/19 1938: Italy 4-2 Hungary
Paris’ Stade Olimpique de Colombes hosted one of the great World Cup games. In their second successive final the Italians took the lead after six minutes after fine play from Meazza. Hungary took just two minutes to level proceedings through Pal Titkos, but in the 16th minute Meazza again turned creator to give Italy a lead they would not let go. With 20 minutes remaining the Hugarian captain Gyorgy Sarosi broke away to make it 3-2, but another Italian goal ensured back-to-back Azzurri world titles.
4/19 1950: Brazil 1-2 Uruguay
This was, up until yesterday, Brazil’s greatest footballing tragedy. The hosts were so confident of victory that they hired a samba band to stand by the side of the Maracana pitch, ready to play a new song called ‘Brazil the Winners’ after their inevitable victory. Things started off well: Brazil took the lead two minutes into the second half, but a quarter of an hour later a resurgent Uruguay equalised. Then, almost unbelievably, with 11 minutes to go they took the lead and held it until the end. A final memorable as much for Brazilian hubris as for the football on display-and an echo of yesterday’s loss in so many ways.
5/19 1954: West Germany 3-2 Hungary
The highest point for the ‘Magical Magyars’ of Ferenc Puskas and Nandor Hidegkuti was also their lowest hour. This is the match known as the ‘Miracle of Bern’, when the underdog West Germans snuck past a seemingly imperious Hungary side. The group-stage game between the two had ended 8-3 in favour of the Hungarians, who had arrived in Switzerland as the favourites and progressed serenely to the final. Their subsequent 3-2 defeat would go down in history as perhaps the most famous game in the history of German football- and Hungary would never get so close to the Jules Rimet trophy again.
6/19 1958: Sweden 2-5 Brazil
For the fourth time in six World Cups, the hosts reached the climax to the tournament. The final in Solna was a one-sided affair as the Brazilians ran riot, putting five past the Swedish goalkeeper Kalle Svensson. Pelé netted twice to add to a brace from Vava and a goal by the ‘Little Amnt’ Mario Zagallo, later to become a World Cup winner as a coach. The final was overshadowed in quality by a memorable semi between Brazil and the brilliant French led by Juste Fontaine.
7/19 1962: Brazil 3-1 Czechoslovakia
Brazil lacked their icon for this final in Santiago. But in Pelé’s absence Garrincha starred, scoring four times including a crucial goal in the final in which Brazil trailed. As they had four years earlier they hit back almost immediately through Amarildo, brought into the side earlier in the tournament following Pelé’s injury. The game ended 3-1- not a classic like some of the earlier finals, but memorable in a sense for the manner in which the Brazilians rallied without their star. Another unfortunate parallel with 2014…
8/19 1966: England 4-2 West Germany
The most famous final of all, for those of an English persuasion. Nearly half a century on no England team has come close to emulating Alf Ramsay’s ‘Wingless Wonders’, who beat West Germany 4-2 at Wembley through Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick- still the only treble ever scored in a World Cup final- and that much-disputed third goal that many Germans still claim never crossed the line. This was a thrilling final made greater by its position within our national footballing consciousness, as well as the failures of subsequent generations to live up to its legacy.
9/19 1970: Brazil 4-1 Italy
Perhaps the greatest World Cup final ever from a neutral standpoint. The best Brazilian side in history demolished the Italy of Facchetti and Rivera in the pounding heat of Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca- but the game will always be remembered for the fourth and final Brazilian goal. Eight Brazil players touched the ball in the build-up before Pelé drew the defence and slipped a pass to Carlos Alberto, who hammered a low shot into the far corner.
10/19 1974: West Germany 2-1 Netherlands
The one the Dutch let get away- and have regretted ever since. The 1974 final pitted the Netherlands of Cruyff, Neeskens and Krol against Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller- and it was one for the ages. The Dutch struck first and appeared to be in control- until their grip on the game hardened into arrogance and the Germans struck back with a hotly-disputed Paul Breitner penalty. Then Müller won it with the kind of poacher’s goal that was his hallmark- and in doing so, left an indelible stain on the Dutch footballing mentality that persists to this day.
11/19 1978: Argentina 3-1 Netherlands
A last, glorious bow for the great Dutch side of the 1970s- and a controversial victory for Argentina in a World Cup where the Argentine military junta were never far from proceedings. Mario Kempes scored twice, one in normal and one in extra-time and was named man of the match. But the Dutch accused the Argentines of underhand tactics- this final is remembered for the oppressive atmosphere that surrounded it more than the sporting spectacle.
12/19 1982: Italy 3-1 West Germany
An iconic final, if only for Marco Tardelli’s celebration of manic joy upon putting Italy 2-0 in front. West Germany were never in the game, and Paul Breitner’s 83rd minute strike was hardly even a consolation. At 40, Dino Zoff became the oldest player to win the World Cup after one of the most memorable finals in the tournament’s storied history.
13/19 1986: Argentina 3-2 West Germany
It seems strange to say given their unerringly consistent record, but Germany were persistent failures at World Cups in the 1980s. In the same Estadio Azteca that had hosted the 1970 final they fell behind to a Jose Luis Brown goal. Their sense of doom was compounded after Diego Maradona played Jorge Burruchaga in for the winning goal with a pass plucked from genius’ pocket- before that the Germans had scored twice to level the final from a seemingly impossible position.
14/19 1990: Argentina 0-1 West Germany
Their final four years before had been one of the best ever- but the rematch was as dour as 1986 was vibrant. The Argentines ended with nine men after Monzon and Dezotti were dismissed, in a bad-tempered final that was a microcosm of a cynical tournament. Full-back Andreas Brehme scored the only goal of perhaps the first ‘bad’ World Cup final.
15/19 1994: Brazil 0-0 Italy (a.e.t., Brazil win 3-2 on penalties)
The first final to end goalless after normal time- and the first to go to the great lottery of the penalty shootout. USA 94 pitted Dunga’s uncompromising and tactically-savvy Brazil against an Italy inspired by the ‘Divine Ponytail’, Roberto Baggio. It was Baggio’s penalty miss that decided the final- he blasted the ball far over the bar into the Californian sky. It’s an image with which one of the world’s great players will forever be unfairly tarnished. The final itself, as the scoreline suggests, was the second dull one in a row.
16/19 1998: France 3-0 Brazil
The intertwining storylines in this one far outstrip the quality of the game itself. Zidane inspired the French to a veritable stroll of a victory, but the real drama was played out before the match. Brazil’s star, Ronaldo was unwell yet was forced to play- by the team, by the sponsors or by himself, or perhaps a combination of all three- and in the game he was a ghostlike influence as his side were pulverized by the Tricolores.
17/19 2002: Brazil 2-0 Germany
The 2002 final brought a comprehensive victory for a Brazil side carried to victory by a rejuvenated Ronaldo. It was comprehensively dull, too- Germany had scraped their way to get there bbut in the game itself they barely had a sniff. We’re now well within the sequence of poor-quality finals.
18/19 2006: Italy 1-1 France (a.e.t., Italy win 5-3 on penalties)
Somehow, Marcelo Lippi and Fabio Cannavaro dragged Italy kicking and screaming to a third world title after a buildup dominated by revelations from the Calciopoli scandal. The final could best be described as middling- the real action occurred within the space of a mad second as Zidane signed off his international career in violent style with a ram-like headbutt to the chest of Marco Materazzi, who had earlier opened the scoring for Italy.
19/19 2010: Spain 1-0 Netherlands
Andrès Iniesta’s extra-time strike settled what was less a football game than a recreation of the Trojan War. Having decided there was no way they could compete on footballing terms, the Dutch instructed Nigel de Jon and Mark van Bommel to act as trained assassins-the studded chest of Xabi Alonso was the natural outcome. Not a fondly-recalled final.
What do our leaders think? David Cameron has told The Independent he’d like to see a European team win in South America. Ed Miliband will confirm only that he “supports England” (thanks for clearing that up Ed) “so doesn’t really have a preference”.
The Europhile Nick Clegg, now that his family ties to Spain and the Netherlands are no longer relevant, plumps for Germany, whom he tips “to win 3-1”. Nigel Farage, unusally, agrees with him, saying that “it will have to be Germany”.
This may have more to do with his German wife than with any softening of Ukip’s anti-European stance.
What about spiritual guidance? The current pope – who the Vatican says “might” watch the final – will presumably be supporting his native Argentina. However, his spokesman has “excluded categorically” the prospect that Pope Francis will sit down and watch it with his German predecessor Benedict XVI, who also resides in the Vatican and who some say is a Bayern Munich fan.
Perhaps the most sensible basis for a decision is the sport itself. Who plays the most beautiful football? On recent form, that suggests plumping for Germany – “Los Deutschland”, as the Germany fans say – except that, then again, there’s always Messi. Maybe our cultural comparison (right) isn’t such a bad way of deciding after all.
Facts you need to know about Germany
1. Chancellor: Angela Merkel
Economy: Europe’s largest; the world’s fourth largest; if anything, too strong
Population: 81 million
2. Multi-named literary giant: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
3. Notorious footballing cheat: Harald Schumacher
4. Living: Vatican-based Pope Benedict XVI (retired 2013)
Politics: Beacon of democracy and coalition governance
5. Political father figure: Otto von Bismarck
6. Cuisine: Sausage-based
Fashion: Hugo Boss
7. Philosophers: Most of the big names (Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche (pictured), etc)
8. Composers: Ditto (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, etc)
9. Pop icons: Kraftwerk
10. Dance: Schuhplattling
11. Regrettable military clashes with the UK: Two world wars
Vile (past) regimes: Nazis (1933-45) World Cup defeats of England that still rankle 1970, 1990, 2010
12. Greatest contribution to the 2014 World Cup: Their 7-1 defeat of the hosts, Brazil: the most dazzling World Cup semi-final triumph ever.
Where to watch: With pilsners and bratwurst at the German embassy party (invite only).
Facts you need to know about Argentina
1. President: Cristina Kirchner
Economy: Unstable; defaulted on $95bn of external debt in 2001; has defaulted on domestic debt three times since 1980
Population: 42 million
2. Multi-named literary giant: Jorge Luis Borges
3. Notorious footballing cheat: Diego ‘Hand of God’ Maradona
4. Living: Vatican-based Pope Francis I - Politics: Volatile democracy
5. Political mother figure: Eva Peron
6. Cuisine: Steak-based Fashion Generally just follows Europe
7. Philosophers: Er... Che Guevara?
8. Composers: Alberto Ginastera Pop icons None you’re likely to have heard of
9. Dance: Tango
10. Regrettable military clashes with the UK: The Falklands War (1982)
Vile (past) regimes: Assorted military juntas (eg 1930-46, 1966-73, 1975-83)
11. World Cup defeats of England that still rankle: 1986, 1998
12. Greatest contribution to the 2014 World Cup: The incomparable Lionel Messi.
Where to watch: No embassy party – to “avoid probable heart attacks”. Try Moo Cantina, Pimlico, instead.