Where the World Cup final will be won and lost

The Rio Report

As one of the finest World Cups in football history draws to a close we take a look at four key battles that are sure to shape the showpiece final at the Maracana stadium.

Sami Khedira v Lionel Messi

Stopping Messi will be Germany's priority and they are unlikely to give the job to just one player. The Germans have been studying how the Netherlands managed to keep Messi relatively subdued in the semi-final although they have not given many clues as to how they intend to go about the job themselves.

Defender Benedikt Hoewedes, who helped subdue Cristiano Ronaldo in the 4-0 win over Portugal, said it was important to swarm the Argentine number ten and not get caught in a one-on-one.

However, as Messi has effectively been a playmaker in the World Cup, German defensive midfielder Khedira is likely to have a key role in keeping him under wraps.

Khedira, a box-to-box midfielder, worked tirelessly to help close down the Brazilian midfield in his side's epic 7-1 semi-final win on Tuesday.

Mats Hummels v Gonzalo Higuain

Higuain has started all of Argentina's matches, bar the opening game against Bosnia, and has played the often unforgiving role as target man.

Although his goal haul has been disappointing, limited to the early strike in the 1-0 quarter-final win over Belgium, his movement causes defenders endless problems, pulling them out of position to open space for Messi to thread balls through to Ezequiel Lavezzi or run at the defence himself.

Hummels is strong in the air and more versatile than his defensive partner Jerome Boateng.

Higuain had the better when the he clashed with Hummels in the Champions League this season, scoring the first goal in Napoli's 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund.

Thomas Mueller v Marcos Rojo

Mueller has been one of the outstanding players of the tournament with five goals and was the architect of both the 4-0 win over Portugal and the 7-1 demolition of Brazil in the semi-finals.

Apart from his speed and clinical finishing, Mueller's secret is his exceptional and instinctive understanding of space and he is invariably in the right place at the right time.

The Bayern Munich player is usually found of the right side of the attack where left back Marcos Rojo is the first line of defence for the South Americans.

Sporting defender Rojo was far from a unanimous choice at the start but has had an excellent tournament, helping to steady a previously rocky ship.

Toni Kroos v Javier Mascherano

Kroos was one of the outstanding players in Germany's 7-1 demolition of Brazil as he showed with the fourth goal when he dispossessed Fernandinho, played a one-two and scored into an empty net.

He is one of Germany's most creative players as he spreads passes around the midfield, a ruthless finisher and a physically imposing presence.

If he plays on the left of midfield again he may fall into Mascherano's sphere of influence, setting up one of the key battles in the match.

Mascherano has been outstanding for Argentina and played a key role in helping subdue Arjen Robben during the semi-final against Netherlands.

Reuters

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