The '05 Generation Meets The Class Of '09


When the 22 players representing Germany and Argentina step out onto the Maracana pitch for Sunday's World Cup final, roughly half will be fulfilling prophecies made in the previous decade.

From Argentina captain Lionel Messi to Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, the team-sheets will reflect the fact that glory for both teams has been in the pipeline for some time.

The backbone of the Germany team who eviscerated hosts Brazil 7-1 in the semifinals was drawn from the Under-21 side that triumphed at the European Championship in 2009.

The source of Argentina's achievements in Brazil, meanwhile, can be traced back even further, to the World Youth Championship — later rechristened the Under-20 World Cup — in the Netherlands in 2005.

Of the current Argentina squad, six players featured for the team that overcame Nigeria 2-1 in Utrecht in the competition final.

Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Garay, Fernando Gago and an 18-year-old Messi all started, while Lucas Biglia and Sergio Aguero — who turned 17 just before the tournament began — came on as second-half substitutes.

Messi decided the game with a brace of penalties, earning him the Golden Boot and also sparking a run of success that established his team-mates as the most talented group of Argentine players to have emerged in a generation.

In 2007, with Aguero the star, Argentina successfully defended their title, claiming a fifth Under-20 crown in seven attempts.

A year later, a side also featuring Ezequiel Lavezzi, Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano and Sergio Romero triumphed in the Olympic football tournament in Beijing, with Nigeria again the fall guys in the final.

Six years on in Rio de Janeiro, the 2005 generation continue to carry their nation's hopes.

Zabaleta, Garay, Biglia and Messi are all certain to start against Germany and although Gago has lost his place in Alejandro Sabella's team, Aguero may have a decisive role to play after overcoming a muscular complaint.

On the other side of the halfway line, Germany coach Joachim Loew could align six members of the team that crushed England 4-0 in the Under-21 Euro 2009 final in Malmo, Sweden.

Having progressed together through the youth ranks, Neuer, Benedikt Hoewedes, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Mats Hummels embody the staggering progress made by German football since 2000.

Germany's group-phase exit at Euro 2000 prompted a profound rethink of the country's approach to youth coaching, involving the establishment of new football schools and the subsidising of professional clubs' youth academies.

The results have been remarkable, and close to instantaneous, with Germany reaching at least the semifinals of every major tournament since the 2006 World Cup.

“It started off in 2009, when we won the Under-21 tournament and beat England 4-0,” says centre-back Per Mertesacker.

“I think there's a small link between these two tournaments. The 2009 tournament was a real turning point. The youth academies started developing well over the last five or six years.”

But although the seeds of success for both Germany and Argentina were sown in youth football, the two squads collide at very different stages of their development.

While the average age of Germany's players is a youthful 25.7, Argentina's average age is 28.4, making them the oldest squad in the competition.

All six members of the 2005 generation will be 30 or over by the 2018 World Cup in Russia and as Mascherano has admitted, this may be their last chance to fulfil the promise first glimpsed in Holland nine years ago.

“I have spent a lot of time waiting for this moment,” said the 30-year-old Barcelona midfielder.

“This is my third World Cup. Maybe it will be my last one.”