20th World Cup Final, Mario Filho “Maracana”– Rio Di Janerio; Germany 1 Argentina 0 (After Extra Time)
Four years ago I mused that the finals of tournaments at times are a microcosm of the tournament. The climax of the 20th World Cup mirrored the knock out stages – games with chances that were not taken or converted into goals. In spite of not controlling the game, Argentina had all of the best chances and failed to take any of them. Germany controlled the match, but could not manage to create a clear-cut chance until Mario Gotze’s chest & volley across Romero with 7 minutes of extra time remaining.
Germany were not at their best in the first half. Pre-match Sami Khedera was withdrawn with Christoph Kramer taking his place. Kramer only lasted 20 minutes as he suffered a head injury. It was about this time that Argentina fluffed their first (best?) chance. Kroos heading back to his keeper was interecepted by Higuain in lots of space. Higuian dragged his shot wide. He did have the ball into the back of the net 9 minutes later, a Lavezzi cross was turned in by Higuain, who was just offside. While Germany’s best chance in the first half came at the end, with Howedes hitting the bar with a header.
In the second half, Argentina made the change straight away, swapping Aguero for Lavezzi. This meant a change of shape for Argentina switching to two up front with Messi playing behind. This looked to pay dividends straight away when Higuain just strayed offside. Moments later Messi had his best chance of the match – getting behind the German defence on the left he put the ball past the far post. He should have scored. Higuain also managed to recreate the famous Schumacher/Batistion incident with Neuer, with the same result! Higuain was shortly afterwards replaced by the Inter Milan forward Rodrigo Palacio, while the all time leading goalscorer in World Cup finals matches Miroslav Klose made way before the end for Mario Gotze.
Extra Time saw the game open up. Kramer’s replacement Schurrle hit a shot straight at Romero. Aguero had a run at the German defence, but his cross couldn’t find an Argentinian recipient. Argentina’s next great chance came when Hummels misjudged a cross to allow Palacio in one on one with Neuer. Neuer came out narrowed the angle and Palacio’s attempted chip went wide. The second period was scrappy before the breakthrough came with 7 minutes to go. Schurrle attacked down the left and crossed in to the substitute Gotze, he chested the ball down and volleyed the ball across Romero (above). The angled volley was all very reminiscent of Iniesta’s winner from four years ago. Argentina had a chance right at the end though, Messi’s free kick sailed high, wide and not very handsome capping a miserable night for him.
Like Spain’s win four years ago, Germany’s win has created history. Their fourth triumph is the first by a European team on American soil (no European team has triumphed either in North, Central or South America). After being the bridesmaids to Spain’s European Championship win in 2008 (followed by semi final losses to Spain four years ago and to Italy in the subsequent European Championships) Germany are back in the winners circle for the first time since 1996 & their first World Cup win in 24 years – ironically enough the length of time between both Italy and Brazil’s third and fourth World Cup wins.
Like Brazil, Argentina were reliant on one player to generate a moment of magic. Unlike Brazil, Argentina were solid defensively and gave nothing away. Yet had Higuain, Messi or Palacio had the composure they obviously have for their club sides – Argentina could easily have won. Like the Barcelona side under Pep Guardiola, Messi is lauded as one of the best but in truth falls short of true greatness. He has had a good World Cup but not the great tournament needed to cement his place at the top table of great players.
As for the victors, Germany won the World Cup in the hardest way possible. They came through a tough group playing all their matches in the sub tropical north with afternoon kick offs. Respite came with their last 16 tie with Algeria – played in southern Porto Alegre. The cold/flu outbreak possibly played a part in their muted quarter final win over France, but nothing will surpass that semi final win. Like the great German sides of the past, you could set your watches with their arrival in the later stages of a football tournament – and their arrival would almost always be accompanied with their form.
While the big story at the start of this World Cup was the fall of Spain, the end could be construed with the rise of New Germany. Except this side have been knocking at the door for a while now. With Germany back in the winners circle, an exciting Belgium side now with tournament experience and Spain with some rebuilding to do (but with the bricks already available) both the next European Championships and the World Cup in four years should be interesting. In the mean time, Germany are the deserved World Cup winners.