Germany are the 2014 World Cup Champions. Das war wirklich wunderbar. A splendid finish by substitute Mario Götze from an Andre Schürrle cross late in extra-time gave Deutschland the much deserved title. A thoroughly defensive tie found its match winner against all odds after both defenses had held strong all match. At the end of a thoroughly entertaining World Cup, we got a deserving final goal to wrap it all up. It was a phenomenal end to a wonderful tournament.
Germany found it nearly impossible to break down the Argentine defense today, but any time they lost the ball, everybody was tracking back, making sure to mark Lionel Messi. The few times that Argentina found some space, Jerome Boateng was usually there to clear the ball. Bastian Schweinsteiger played an excellent game in the middle of the park, with impressive physicality marking his complete transformation to a hard tackling midfielder over the years. He was the complete midfielder today. The image of Schweinsteiger with blood dripping down his face should be the lasting image of this World Cup. And when Manuel Neuer was needed in the back, either as a shot-stopper or as a sweeper, he was always in the right spot, completing a most impressive World Cup in style. I don’t think anybody will dispute his award as this competition’s best goalkeeper.
It has to be said that Argentina played a great game defensively. Javier Mascherano was again immense in his deep-lying midfield position, making interception after interception. And the back four held Germany to only a handful of chances all match. But they did all that at the expense of their offense. Rodrigo Palacio and Gonzalo Higuain miserably failed to convert the big chances that fell their way. And they, along with Sergio Agüero, provided little help for Messi up front.
Messi will be left frustrated at the lack of service he got in this match, as he simply didn’t get on the ball enough to make the impact he needed to. Some will criticize him for not stepping up to the occasion, but the truth is that he didn’t have enough help. Many would have expected him to convert the big chance that he had early in the second half, but Neuer did well to close off the angle. When Messi was on the ball in the first half, he generally did quite well. This match won’t see him overtake Diego Maradona in popularity in Argentina, but it was too big an ask for Messi to win this match on his own today. While his defense played the match of their lives, his fellow attackers were not good enough today, with Angel di Maria sorely missed. I disagree with Messi winning the Golden Ball however, as I think any of the German midfielders were more deserving.
The match started about as brightly as we could have hoped, with a fairly open first half. While Argentina had their midfielders line up only a few yards ahead of the defenders, they sent men forward without restriction on the break. Their tactics weren’t completely negative, and we were all better for it. The chances that fell on both ends were ones that we would normally expect players to take, but the nerves were clearly felt today. Mesut Özil started brightly, redeeming himself with a wonderful game, and he and Thomas Müller were Germany’s biggest threats in the early going, creating a number of decent chances for their teammates. Messi was dangerous when he got on the ball, but he had very few touches overall. Mistakes from Higuain, and excellent last-ditch defending from Jerome Boateng kept Argentina off the board.
The second half was played with much more caution however, as both teams quickly realized a single mistake would cost them the game. For Germany, with one exception early in the half that saw Messi alone on goal, Boateng and Schweinsteiger cleaned everything up with aggressive tackling. Offensively, they dearly missed Sami Khedira’s energy and drive in the midfield, as they were lacking a bigger body to go through the middle. Argentina’s defense hardly put a foot wrong, but Messi and his fellow strikers didn’t get many chances after the midpoint of the half.
There wasn’t much to extra-time after Schürrle’s shot went straight at Sergio Romero in the opening moments. The play became rather fragmented as injuries began to pile up. Players on both sides were looking rather weary. But Germany proved to have the lighter legs, with Özil, Müller and Schürrle putting in a ton of work in the midfield. That it was the hard-working Schürrle who sent in the cross that set up the winner was fitting. Götze didn’t have much of an impact until his goal, but his group stage woes will be certainly be forgotten after that one moment of brilliance. It was a goal worthy of a World Cup winner, one that will be remembered forever.
As far as the referee, he had a good game overall even if he missed a couple minor calls here and there. I liked that Nicola Rizzoli wasn’t afraid to get out his yellow cards in the first half. Too often this World Cup, things got out of control because the referee didn’t want to impact the match. However today, I felt Rizzoli had control from the start. While he could have shown a red to Benedikt Höwedes late in the first half, I felt he was wise to only give him a yellow. It was a reckless challenge, but there didn’t seem to be intent. And while he showed a few yellows in the second half, he maintained his control on the match and let the play be the story. He might have showed Agüero a second yellow for smacking Schweinsteiger in the head with his fist, but I agreed with the decision to leave it as merely a foul. Nobody will talk about Rizzoli after today, and that means he did his job.
Philipp Lahm has lifted the trophy, and Germany are champions. A terrific month of soccer is now over, but we won’t soon forget the events in Brazil. I want to say thank you to any of you who have followed my blog over the last month. It’s been tremendously fun writing about all the action. However, I want to say that the blog is just getting started, and I will have much more content to come. There will be some thoughts wrapping up the World Cup in the next few days, but after that it’ll nearly be time for the club season to begin.
Huge congratulations to Germany for a much deserved World Cup. The best team doesn’t always win, but they did today. Vielen Dank für einen wunderschönen Monat.