A wonderful World Cup will draw to a close at the Maracana on Sunday night as Germany and Argentina battle it out to become champions.
A thrilling tournament has served up attacking football and goals galore, with many of the star names producing their best form.
Fans from across the globe have helped to create a fantastic atmosphere in all the host cities, with Brazil living up to its reputation as the spiritual home of football.
If Brazil had made it through to Sunday’s showpiece it would have made the occasion even more special, but incredible results are also an ingredient of a great World Cup and the hosts were on the wrong end of a stunning scoreline in the semi-finals as they were demolished 7-1 by Germany.
Germany now go on to the majestic setting of the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro and they will have the support of the locals as they take on Brazil’s fierce rivals Argentina.
It is the third time the two countries will have met in a World Cup final and presents a clash of continents as Germany bid to become the first European side to triumph on South American soil.
Argentina came out on top in Mexico in 1986 before West Germany won in Italy four years later, and Germany have also knocked out Argentina at the quarter-final stage in the last two tournaments.
Germany were superb as they beat Argentina 4-0 in South Africa four years ago but could not go on to lift the trophy, and they will be aware that their performances so far in Brazil will count for nothing unless they are crowned champions.
Joachim Low’s side have been made to work hard along the way, but when they have clicked they have been ruthlessly efficient.
Having crushed Portugal 4-0, drawn 2-2 with Ghana and edged out USA 1-0 to win Group G, Germany then needed extra-time to see off Algeria 2-1 and overcame France 1-0 before their annihilation of Brazil.
Low is unlikely to change such a successful formula now, meaning that Miroslav Klose will again lead the line after becoming the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer with his 16th finals goal against Brazil.
Thomas Muller has 10 World Cup goals, and five at this tournament, and he will provide a major threat in support of Klose, along with the impressive Toni Kroos, while Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil will hope to make an impact after a quiet World Cup.
Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira have provided midfield stability in front of a back four of Philipp Lahm, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels and Benedikt Howedes, while Manuel Neuer has reinforced his standing as the No.1 goalkeeper in the world.
Hummels, Kroos, Muller and captain Lahm are all on a 10-man shortlist for the Golden Ball – the World Cup’s best player – but they could all be pipped to the prize if Argentina win the final.
Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano are among the nominees but it may be Lionel Messi who is the most likely to challenge one of the Germans, or Colombia’s James Rodriguez, if he can deliver one of his most dazzling displays on what has been described as a day of destiny for the Barcelona forward.
Messi caught the eye with four goals as Argentina topped their group by defeating Bosnia-Herzegovina 2-1, Iran 1-0 and Nigeria 3-2, but it has since been suggested that he is suffering with fatigue following a long season.
Argentina have continued to win by narrow margins in the knockout stages, having scraped past Switzerland 1-0 after extra-time, beaten Belgium 1-0 and then required penalties to progress at the Netherlands’ expense after a 0-0 draw in the semi-finals.
Di Maria missed the semi-final with a thigh injury and his fitness will continue to be monitored ahead of kick-off, with Enzo Perez most likely to make way if he is available.
Head coach Alejandro Sabella has a wealth of attacking talent in his preferred starting line-up, with Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi as well as Messi and Di Maria.
The midfield discipline comes from Mascherano and Lucas Biglia, while Manchester City duo Pablo Zabaleta and Martin Demichelis are joined in defence by Ezequiel Garay and Marcos Rojo. Sergio Romero has also excelled in goal, notably with his penalty saves against the Dutch.
Another key figure will be Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli, who follows in the footsteps of Howard Webb and will hope the final is less fiery than the match in South Africa between Spain and the Netherlands.
It would be a fitting end if Sunday’s game delivers a classic final, but regardless of the outcome Brazil 2014 will live long in the memory.
Paul Merson’s prediction
People might think I’m mad, but I don’t think Germany are that good.
I really don’t. I’m blanking out the Brazil game because Brazil were atrocious. I’ve never seen anything like it in 30 years of football.
I’m not buying into the idea of Germany as a good team at all. They were allowed to go out and play against Brazil, but Argentina will sit back against them and play in the boring way that they played against Holland. The way I look at it is that if Argentina go in front then Germany won’t come back.
The Germans are not great defensively and Argentina will be very patient and frustrate them. They will take it all the way to penalties if they want to because defensively they have been very sound.
PAUL PREDICTS: 1-0 to Argentina