World Cup Final 2014 Match Preview: Argentina vs Germany
Kick off: 20:00 BST
Germans are gearing up for the possibility of a fourth World Cup title, with millions set to flood the streets in support of the country's beloved Mannschaft in its showdown with Argentina.
It would be the first title for Germany since the country's joyous unification in 1990, and come as the nation celebrates a quarter century since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Still giddy from the German side's shock 7-1 thrashing of Brazil in Tuesday's semi-final, fans began gathering in the early afternoon on Berlin's giant Fan Mile behind the Brandenburg Gate amid occasional rain showers.
Up to 200,000 supporters were expected along the broad boulevard closed to traffic during the match starting at 1900 GMT, with millions more due to huddle in front of screens in beer gardens, bars, sports clubs and sitting rooms throughout the country.
A record 32.6 million television viewers watched Germany's mind-blowing dismantling of Brazil and even more are expected to follow the final at Rio's legendary Maracana stadium.
Among the supporters at the venue itself will be Chancellor Angela Merkel, who flew to Brazil with German President Joachim Gauck and several senior politicians hoping to bask in the reflected glory of Joachim Loew's side.
Merkel hailed Germany's "great team" in an interview with ZDF public television, but warned victory would "not be easy".
"Everyone thinks after the 7-1 that we're almost there. That is why we all have to cross our fingers again because Argentina is also going to give its all," said Merkel, who already attended the Germans' 4-0 trouncing of Portugal at the start of the tournament.
Commentators said the stars might just be aligned for Germany to join the elite club of winners with at least four titles: Brazil and Italy.
The top-selling Bild declared all of Germany's "80.8 million hearts are beating for you" on its front page, noting that West Germany had pulled off its World Cup victory against Argentina 24 years ago.
- 'Chill the bubbly' -
News website Spiegel Online trumpeted: "Chill the bubbly, take Monday off: Germany will be the champions, celebrating is allowed".
It listed seven reasons to be bullish about the match, including the Germans' fighting form and experience.
But it played it safe, publishing a parallel list of seven reasons why Argentina would bring home the trophy, including its impressive balance of defence and offence, the Europeans' losing record in South American World Cups and, quite simply, Lionel Messi.
Berlin's daily Tagesspiegel said the Germans were running on the momentum of the head-spinning rout of Brazil in the semi-final, which it compared to "an unannounced moon landing".
Its commentator Harald Martenstein said that along with Christianity, Judaism and Islam, Germans also worshipped the "football god".
"And at some point the football god must appear to us," he wrote in a tongue-in-cheek column. "Was that it during the 7-1 match against Brazil? Tonight we'll know more."
The B.Z. tabloid also turned to religion for its headline: "You have the pope but we have the gods!" referring to the Argentine pontiff and the German team.
In a country in which national pride is still clouded by a militaristic past, Germans have long channelled a sense of patriotism through their national football team.
German flags are normally a rare sight but black, red and gold were out in force at the weekend, decorating cars, balconies and bicycle-seat covers, on face paint and nail varnish.
Supermarkets in the capital even got playful with the national colours, with special packages of blackberries, strawberries and pineapple for sale and black eggplants piled next to red tomatoes and golden bananas.
News weekly Der Spiegel noted the sense of exuberance in a country long burdened by its bloody history and published a cover story on how the Germans' self image has evolved since it hosted the World Cup in 2006.
"The World Cup is ending and again the world has experienced a German Mannschaft that has played with ease, maturity and sometimes even with elegance," it said.
"These weeks... showed another Germany, an open, optimistic country."
Jubilant Argentine fans honked car horns down the streets of Rio de Janeiro before the World Cup final Sunday, prompting Brazilians to shout back their allegiance in this match: "Germany!"
Still smarting over their team's humiliating World Cup elimination, many Brazilians are backing Germany over their South American neighbours, but football arch-rivals, in the game at the iconic Maracana Stadium.
Some 100,000 Argentinians are expected to descend on Rio.
Since the tournament kicked off on June 12, legions of Argentines have flooded Brazilian cities, taunting their hosts with chants that their hero Diego Maradona was better than Brazil legend Pele.
After Brazil lost 7-1 to Germany in the semi-final, Argentines held up seven fingers and chanted "They ate seven goals!" Brazilians chanted back that they had won a record five titles.
After Brazil lost 3-0 to the Netherlands in Saturday's third-place playoff, taking the two-game tally to 10 goals, a group of Argentines walked down a Rio street in the dead of night and loudly counted to 10.
Cars and buses packed with Argentine fans waving their country's white and blue flag and honking their horns streamed across Rio streets hours before the final. For Brazilians, seeing Argentina win on their soil would add insult to injury.
"We're in a tough spot. We have the choice between our executioners (Germany) or our historic rivals, the Argentines," said Francisco Silva, a public worker. "I'm choosing Germany because if the 'hermanos' (brothers) win, they'll mock us for life."
Silva was taking the subway near the Sambadrome, the open-air venue of the Carnival that the city opened for the countless Argentine motorhomes, buses and cars that have arrived.
- Argentine arrogance -
"There has always been a great rivalry between us. They think they're the greatest in the world, and we do too," said Roberto Romeira, a 38-year-old Argentine accountant who camped out at the Sambadrome.
"They were convinced that they would be champions and it didn't turn out like they wanted. It's too bad they're supporting Germany. It hurts because we are all Latinos," Romeira said.
But Ariel Westten, who like many Argentines has German roots, said he would never support Brazil either.
"Nothing would hurt us more than seeing Brazil become champion, and nothing would hurt Brazilians more than seeing Argentina win," Westten said.
Eric Turanza de Salta, from northern Argentina, acknowledged that Brazilians and other South Americans see Argentines as too arrogant and proud of their European roots.
"Brazilians support Germany because of our delusions of grandeur. We are Argentines and we believe we're European, especially in Buenos Aires," he said. "The worst is that because of that, all of Latin America would support Brazil if it was Brazil-Argentina in the final."
As for German fans, those enjoying the sun at the legendary Copacabana beach were happy with the warm reception they have had in Brazil.
"Nearly all the Brazilians are backing Germany. They can't bear to see Argentina win here," said Peter Stock, 51, from western Germany, wearing the red and black away jersey that the Europeans wore when they beat Brazil.
Germany's away kit resembles the jersey of Brazil's most popular team, Flamengo, making it easier for fans of the club to back the Europeans.
Along Copacabana, some Argentines spent the night in tents or sleeper-vans.
A long line formed outside the official Fan Fest, which can fit 25,000 people in front of a jumbo screen on the beach.
About 100 Argentina fans used a giant flag to keep off the sun, chanting, "Proud to be Argentine!"
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