Mario Götze’s extra-time winner on Sunday night proved enough for Germany to win the World Cup for the first time since the nation’s reunification. The match that was supposed to see Messi seal his place in history among the greats such as Pele, Maradonna and Zidane, did not follow the script as the Argentinians were denied victory in the Maracana. Nonetheless, the little Argentinian was awarded the Golden Ball – the award for the tournament’s best player – leading many to question whether he really deserved it.
The game itself, though lacking goals, had its share of heart-wrenching moments. In the first half a misplaced header by expert passer Toni Kroos put Gonzalo Higuian through on goal but he failed to connect properly as he shot wide. At the other end, Müller’s cutback saw André Schürrle force a good save from Romero. Before half-time, an outswinging corner was met by Höwedes’s head but he was also denied – this time by the post.
The moment of the match – aside from the winning goal of course – came early in the second half as Lionel Messi was put through onto his favoured left foot but he agonisingly dragged his shot across the face of goal. In a game where he was largely anonymous, that was to be his best chance of etching his name into football lore; but he did not take it, and Argentina were to have few better chances. Palacio would later find himself free in the box but the ball went wide as he attempted to loft it over Manuel Neuer. The game was not short of controversy as Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero was lucky not to see red. Already on a yellow, he jumped with Schweinsteiger for a header simultaneously putting his fist into his opponent’s face which left the German with a bloody cheek. The referee however took no action having not seen the incident clearly.
The final goal of one of the greatest World Cups in living memory came seven minutes from the end and, in the process, summed up everything about the German side that has made them such a terrific outfit to watch. Schürrle, who had rarely attempted to take on Zabaleta during the game instead tending to opt for possession football, bravely drove down the left-wing before crossing and finding Götze in plenty of space. The young Bayern Munich star cooly chested the ball down and volleyed the ball into the net sparking delirium within the stadium and six-thousand miles away in Berlin as the Germans added a fourth star to their crest.
Germany were certainly the dominant side in another dramatic final. However, Higuain and Messi’s missed chances demonstrated how fine the margins of elite football are. Calm in possession, strong on the ball and well-organised, the Deutsche were worthy winners. Many sides have plenty of attacking flair but it was their defensive set-up that proved the catalyst for success.
A competent and commanding goalkeeper, an excellent attacking right-back in Phillip Lahm, and a solid centre-back pairing in Boateng and Hummels allowed the Germans to play high up the pitch. They could keep possession in the opponents’ half and, when dispossessed, they pressed the man in possession often winning the ball back quickly and depriving the other side a chance to create anything. Quality in depth; cool, measured heads, and tactical mastery won this World Cup.
After the game, Lionel Messi was awarded the Golden Ball but I found this to be disagreeable. I’m not anti-Messi and I know his “disappearance” that night was arguably more to do with the fact football is a team game – and Argentina were the lesser side – but other players have really shone at this tournament. Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arjen Robben, and Javier Mascherano have all caught the eye, while Neuer steered his side to the final with his famed “sweeper-keeper” style.
Messi? Unfortunately I’m tempted to agree with Maradonna’s assessment of the award being a “marketing plan”. He is undoubtedly the greatest player of our generation but perhaps any explanation behind Germany’s victory lies in the fact that one side possessed the greatest player: the other side was a team of great players.