Benitez: No favourites in World Cup final

The Napoli boss believes Argentina boast the tournament’s most “explosive” forward line but says Germany have been the stronger side in Brazil

Rafael Benitez believes there is nothing to choose between Germany and Argentina ahead of Sunday’s World Cup final.

The Napoli boss has been impressed by the performances of Joachim Low’s men, who kicked off their campaign with a 4-0 rout of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and reached the tournament decider courtesy of a stunning 7-1 demolition of hosts Brazil.

Argentina have, by contrast, found goals difficult to come by but Benitez still believes that in Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero they possess the most lethal front-line in international football.

“I don’t know about you, but I struggle to find a favourite in the World Cup final,” the Spanish coach wrote in Corriere dello Sport.

“A game like this, which puts Germany and Argentina on the field, cannot persuade you to believe that one squad is, on paper, stronger than the other.

“You might think that there are certain details to favour one side over the other, but one cannot make a clear and absolute judgement.

“It’s certainly true that Germany, from what we’ve seen since their first game a month ago, have made the greater impression …

“However, at the same time, in the final they will face Messi, Higuain and Aguero and there is no harder test. There cannot be more formidable opponents; there cannot be a more explosive combination to contain.

“It’s true that they’re saying that because of certain tactical attitudes and the exceptional 7-1 win in the semi-final, that the European squad has the concrete possibility of being able to win the World Cup in South America for the first time.

“But Germany are aware of the need to control those three fantastic players up front for Argentina.

“Whatever happens, [on Sunday] evening, history will be made.”

Higuain is going nowhere – De Laurentiis

The Napoli president insists the striker will not be leaving the club this summer, despite reported interest from Barcelona, and feels he can score in Sunday’s World Cup final

Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has ruled out selling Gonzalo Higuain and backed the striker to score in Sunday’s World Cup final.

Argentina frontman Higuain has been linked with a move back to La Liga, with Barcelona reported to be lining up a big-money bid for the 26-year-old.

Higuain, who recently said he was happy to stay at the Serie A club, scored 24 goals in his first season at Napoli following a move from Real Madrid and De Laurentiis says he has no intention of allowing him to move on.

“I’d say that Higuain is not to be taken,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “He’s ours and we will keep him. Also because in his contract there is a release clause of €100 million.”

Higuain is set to line up for his country against Germany in the World Cup final at the Maracana on Sunday, and De Laurentiis expects the striker to get on the scoresheet.

He added: “He’s our pride, he’s in the World Cup final and he will score against Germany.”

Higuain: Germany should fear Argentina too

The Napoli forward insists that Alejandro Sabella’s men are just as worthy participants in the biggest game in football as Brazil’s conquerors

Gonzalo Higuain believes Germany will be as “worried” by the prospect of facing Argentina as they are of   are taking on Joachim Low’s men in Sunday’s World Cup final.

The Albiceleste may have Lionel Messi within their ranks but they are the underdogs going into the game in Rio de Janeiro, primarily because of the way in which their opponents thrashed hosts Brazil 7-1 in a sensationally one-sided last-four encounter in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.

Higuain, though, is not in the least bit daunted by the challenge facing Germany, arguing that Argentina are just as worthy participants in the biggest match in football.

“[Germany] are always true [to themselves] in big matches, but the Germans must be equally worried, because if we are also in the final, it is because we have also done well,” the Napoli striker told L’Equipe.

“We will go there and we will win. People didn’t expect to see us there. Yet, however, we are there. And we can accomplish this dream of lifting the World Cup.

“And it is a dream, an opportunity, a privilege. I spoke with a team-mate who told me that to play a World Cup final was something incomparable, inexplicable – and even more so if you win!”

While the locals in attendance are expected to get behind Germany, given Brazil’s rivalry with Argentina, Higuain insists that Alejando Sabella’s side will not want for support.

“We know that millions and millions of Argentines are behind us and that many will be present in Rio,” the forward enthused.
“It has been 24 years that they have been dreaming of a World Cup final. Their support will be important for us.”

'Thanks, Messi, but I'm happy at Napoli' – Higuain rules out Barcelona move

The Argentina forward is flattered by his compatriot’s desire to see him move to Camp Nou but he says he feels right at home at the San Paolo

Gonzalo Higuain has thanked Lionel Messi for effectively inviting him to join Barcelona but insisted that he is happy at Napoli.

The Blaugrana No.10 admitted last month that he “would love” to see his Argentina team-mate move to Camp Nou this summer as rumours of a big-money move from the Spanish champions emerged.

However, while Higuain is flattered by his compatriot’s comments, he has no intention of leaving Napoli after just one season at the San Paolo.

“I’m truly grateful to Leo for his kind words,” he told TycSport. “But I have a contract with Napoli that makes me very happy.

“Even since I arrived, the Partenopei have always treated me very well.”

Higuain joined Napoli from Real Madrid last summer for a reported €40 million and netted 17 goals in his debut season in Serie A.

Maradona: I learned a lot from 'maestro' Di Stefano

The Argentina great has joined the chorus of praise for his late compatriot, revealing the deep impression that the legendary footballer made on his own career

Diego Maradona has paid tribute to Alfredo Di Stefano, hailing the Real Madrid icon’s impact upon his own career.

The 88-year-old Argentinian, who passed away on Monday following cardiac arrest, enjoyed a glittering career in football, winning eight La Liga titles and five European Cups in 11 seasons with los Blancos.

Maradona spent two seasons at Madrid’s great rivals Barcelona, who had initially claimed to have signed Di Stefano when he arrived in Spain in 1953, and the former forward revealed how influential his  compatriot had been on his own career.

“For me he was a maestro, he taught me a lot,” the 53-year-old said on Telesur programme ‘De Zurda’.

“I remember a lot of great moments of his and truthfully football today is grieving because a great died today, not just a player, but a person. He was a terrific person.”

The Argentina national side also lamented the passing of the great forward, who played six times for the Albiceleste as well as twice for Colombia and 31 times with Spain.

“Whilst I didn’t see him play, my father and grandfather spoke about Alfredo and his play a lot,” Javier Mascherano said.

“He was a gift to world football, and without doubt we will miss him a lot. He did so much for this sport, and all that he left means he is a true legend.”

Gonzalo Higuain echoed his team-mate’s sentiments in hailing one of the greatest players of all time.

“He helped me a lot when I was younger and arrived in Madrid,” the Napoli striker said.

“He was always close and treated me brilliantly. I can’t say any more about my thanks and how much his passing hurts. He deserves all the demonstrations of warmth that the world of football is paying him.”