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Germany to use winning formula against Argentina

By Karolos Grohmann

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - It is hard to image Germany coach Joachim Loew making any changes to the team that demolished hosts Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup semi-final for Sunday's final against Argentina after spending much of the tournament tinkering to find the right mix.

It has taken him years to finally put together a team that can seriously challenge for a title and he even needed the first few games of the tournament to shuffle his troops before settling for what could be the strongest Germany side in decades.

Germany's defense had long been their Achilles heel under Loew, who likes his team to attack, as he failed to find a strong central defense partnership and opted instead to rotate partners around Per Mertesacker.

It was only after he dropped the tall yet slow defender in favor of a more versatile partnership between Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels that the Germans finally looked solid at the back.

It took Loew four World Cup matches to be convinced that Boateng, a central defender at club Bayern Munich, was not the appropriate choice as right back with Philipp Lahm having moved into a midfield role.

Reverting his captain to right back, a position he has played for a decade at top level, and Boateng into his natural central defense role, proved key in their 1-0 win over France and the pair remained unchanged for the semi-final as well.

While other coaches may have hesitated before disappointing one of his most experienced players -- Mertesacker -- so late in a tournament, Loew was quick to praise the defender for his support from the bench against France.

PERFECT PARTNERSHIP

Hummels and Boateng are expected to keep their positions against Argentina as they look to shut out Lionel Messi's runs down middle. Lahm on the right and Benedikt Hoewedes on the left look also set to start.

Hoewedes, another trained central defender, has improved as the tournament progressed and he made up for his lack of attacking interest with a work rate and stability that Loew will want to have in the game that could finally spell an end to their 18-year run without an international trophy.

Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira will provide a second line of defense as holding midfielders, with the pair finally recovering the form that made them invaluable during their 2010 semi-final run.

Schweinsteiger's desire to emerge as a leader of the team may still be in question but not his form as he has peaked at just the right time following an injury-plagued season.

Khedira was himself out for six months with a ligament injury but his performance against Brazil where he helped launch the Germans quick switch from defense to attack dispersed any lingering concerns regarding his fitness and match practice.

Germany's midfield is inconceivable without their top scorer Thomas Mueller and Toni Kroos, both playing their best tournament football to date, and their passing game is second to none.

They are expected to be complemented by Mesut Ozil who has improved as the tournament progressed, battling against years of criticism from German fans that he never reclaimed the form that made him the darling of a nation back in 2010.

It is a fact that Ozil has shown so far only glimpses of his proven abilities and his stupefying miss against Brazil with only the keeper to beat and his team already 7-0 up gave further fuel to his critics.

But Loew has stuck with him throughout the tournament and it would be a surprise to drop him now as one pass or one curling shot from an unimaginable angle could potentially decide the game.

His understudy on the left, Andre Schuerrle has already notched three goals in the tournament compared to Ozil's one but Loew could opt for more possession and control than speed in the final.

Experienced 36-year-old Miroslav Klose is again expected to lead their attack, as he has done since their quarter-final and also has the added confidence boost of having become the World Cup's all-time top scorer when he netted against Brazil.

Klose would love nothing less than playing what could be his last game for Germany and ending his international career with his first trophy.

Keeper Manuel Neuer will provide the necessary stability at the back having played a near flawless tournament so far.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, Editing by Nigel Hunt)

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