When the World Cup began more than a month ago, the thought of Germany being in the final would be little more than a dream. Placed in the toughest half of the draw with a possible quarter-final against France and a semi-final against hosts Brazil, even the most confident pundit had predicted no more than a semi-final exit – and possibly a third third place in succession. Yet now, we are looking at the new world champions.
Perhaps it was all a dream. After the late horror show in 2006, the timidity against Spain in 2010 and the tactical suicide against Italy in 2012, Jogi Löw would finally come through. For those of us you can remember even further back to other World Cups before the current Löw era, this fourth World Cup triumph would finally banish the memories of Yordan Letchkov’s bald head in 1994, Davor Šuker’s theatrics in 1998 and Oliver Kahn’s unfortunate blunder in 2002. It is said that revenge is a dish best served cold, and the Brazilians would be served seven courses of the finest German cold cuts.
As usual, the Nationalmannschaft – for a long time the envy of the rest of the footballing world as the ultimate tournament team – would time their run perfectly, and everything would finally fall into place. The first phase would offer a mixed bag that would throw out both the sublime and the ridiculous, and after a scare in the second phase things would really start to take shape – quite literally in fact with the team’s formation being readjusted back to the more familiar 4-2-3-1.
Unlike in Poland and the Ukraine two years ago where the Nationaltrainer would tinker with the team and drive everybody insane with his at times bizarre decisions, this time he would place complete trust in his team. The spirit that had built up during the squad’s stay in the custom-built training complex at Campo Bahia had been better than ever, the team were happy with even the fringe members playing their part, and every report from the camp would bring a smile to our faces.
On the pitch, things would just get better and better. A tight and somewhat old-fashioned 1-0 win against a well-drilled and highly motivated French outfit that had arguably been one of the better teams at the tournament would see Jogi’s Jungs switch up a gear and recover from the shot in the arm that had been provided by second phase opponents Algeria, but nobody could have expected the glorious Torrausch against the hapless hosts in a game that will be remembered by every supporter of the German national team until their last breath.
However, there would be one more chapter to close the book on Brazil 2014 – with the final test being provided by a familiar foe at this high level. And what a game it would be. One of my readers would sum things up succinctly: if the semi-final had been the stuff of legend, then the hard-fought final against Argentina was epic. While the 7-1 thrashing of Brazil would be little more than an enjoyable and relaxing thrill, the final at the famous Maracaña would give us a touch over two hours of nerve-shredding, emotionally-draining torture – and that moment of pure beauty provided by twenty-two year old Mario Götze, who hadn’t even been born when Lothar Matthäus last lifted that famous gold trophy in Rome’s Olympic Stadium in 1990.
Football at this level is so intense that the differences between winning and losing are paper-thin, which simply intensifies the sense of torture. For the winners, there is the intense ecstasy created by a sense of welcome relief, a weight suddenly lifted from their shoulders by the shrill sounding of the referee’s final whistle. For the defeated, there is simply no consolation. If the fans can feel this simply by sitting in front of their television screens, one can only wonder what is going on in the minds of the players, confined in that noisy and crowded bowl with billions of eyes keenly watching their every move.
If the ecstasy of victory is glorious, the pain of defeat is utterly merciless. Had Argentina taken their chances, things could have been so very different. But this German team have had their fair share of pain for the best part of the last decade, and it was only right that they should finally take some of the glory. Amidst the smiles and tears, the sense of relief would be palpable. The rebuilding project had reached its logical conclusion, and from the ashes that had been gathered in the wake of Rotterdam in 2000, the phoenix had finally risen again.
Facts and Stats
Before the final in Rio the Nationalmannschaft’s record against Argentina would consist of seven wins, four draws and nine defeats – but in the World Cup the statistics would be considerably healthier. In the six previous meetings between the two countries, Germany would have four wins to Argentina’s one, with one draw.
Two of those previous six meetings would come in the final itself. Argentina had overcome a dramatic German figtback from two goals down back to win 3-2 in Mexico City in 1986, and four years later in Rome Germany would exact revenge courtesy of Andy Brehme’s controversial 85th minute penalty. When the two teams walked out onto the pitch at the Maracanã on July 13th 2014, Germany v Argentina would become the most played final fixture in the eighty-four year history of the tournament.
While the Nationalmannschaft would be looking to match Italy’s record of four World Cup victories after their previous successes in 1954, 1974 and 1990, the Albiceleste will be looking for their third – with their two wins coming in 1978 and 1986. Interestingly, the winner would become the first country to win the FIFA World Cup trophy three times – though unlike the Jules Rimet cup awarded to Brazil after their third win in 1970 the five kilogramme gold trophy would not be awarded on a permanent basis.
On a personal note, Bastian Schweinsteiger would make his 108th international appearance – taking him to joint fifth on the all-time DFB list with Jürgen Klinsmann – while late substitute Per Mertesacker would move onto 104 caps, one ahead of Franz Beckenbauer. Along with skipper Philipp Lahm and veteran striker Miroslav Klose, no fewer than four German centurions would feature at some point in the final. Another, Lukas Podolski, would be on the bench.
With Sami Khedira being injured in the pre-match warmup, twenty-three year old Christoph Kramer would make the starting lineup for only the second time since his debut against Poland on May 13th, completing a rapid rise to fame.
In scoring his 113th-minute winner, Mario Götze would become the first substitute to score the winning goal in a World Cup final and would also become the youngest since compatriot Wolfgang Weber in 1966 at Wembley. When Lothar Matthäus last lifted the famous golden trophy in 1990, Götze, Kramer – and team mates Julian Draxler, Erik Durm, Matthias Ginter, Shkodran Mustafi and André Schürrle – had not been born.
As had been the case with both Brazil and Italy before them, the Nationalmannschaft would wait twenty-four years between their third and fourth title. Although this victory would being the DFB its fourth championship star, it would be the first world title for the reunited Germany. In securing their victory at the Maracaña, Germany also make history as the first European country to win the World Cup on Latin American soil.
Joachim Löw had been widely expected to name exactly the same starting lineup that had featured in the quarter- and semi-finals, and indeed right up to the final half an hour this had been the case. However, the late injury to the unfortunate Khedira would disrupt the coach’s tactics before a ball had even been kicked, and the result would be the enforced inclusion of the inexperienced Kramer, whose previous two appearances in the tournament had seen him on the pitch for a total of just thirteen minutes.
If Argentina had been expected to simply shut up shop, things would not start out that way. In a first half that would see decent opportunities for both sides, Gonzalo Higuaín would fail to capitalise on an uncharacteristic Toni Kroos error after twenty minutes, and would have the ball in the back of the net just under a quarter of an hour later only to have it correctly ruled out for offside.
Benedikt Höwedes would hit the post for Germany in first half stoppage time and Argentinian goalkeeper Sergio Romero would block substitute André Schürrle’s shot as Germany picked up the pace after a rocky period midway through the first forty-five minutes.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the German coach however would come with the injury to Kramer, who after suffering a sickening collision with Argentinian Ezequiel Garay would make his way off the field after just thirty-two minutes. The logical move would have been to plug the gap by moving Lahm back into midfield and bringing on another central defender with Jérôme Boateng moving back out to right-back – thus returning to the formation that would be used up until the second phase struggle against Algeria – but the coach would take the bold decision to throw on another attacker in André Schürrle, with the versatile Toni Kroos dropping back into the defensive midfield and playmaker Mesut Özil assuming a more familiar central role.
The replacement of Kramer with Schürrle would be a move that would be a clear sign that there was going to be no more tactical fiddling by Jogi Löw, and would only serve to boost the confidence of the same fans who just two weeks earlier had been laying into the coach for his seemingly intransigent position regarding the positioning of Lahm at his sticking like glue to the 4-3-3 formation. As one of those supporters who had always been sceptical of the coach’s approach – hence my dubbing him the “Maharishi Jogi” – the moment the number nine would flash on the fourth official’s board would be something of an epiphany.
The second half would be less dramatic, with both sides effectively cancelling each other out after a bright start by Alejandro Sabella’s side. As time ticked by there would be a certain inevitability about extra time, and both coaches would make their intentions clear in the closing stages of what had been a goalless but incredibly tense ninety minutes. Sabella would replace Enzo Pérez with the more defensively minded Fernando Gago with four minutes remaining, while two minutes later Mario Götze would come on for Klose, who would end his World Cup career to loud and gracious applause.
Extra time would see Jogi’s Jungs quickly out of the traps, with Schürrle again denied by Romero. Argentina would be starting to park their big blue bus by now, and with every agonising minute the spectre of penalties would come ever closer. Half-time in extra time would come and go, and the talk would naturally turn to who would be lining up to take the spot kicks. The physicality would be switched up a notch, and Schweinsteiger in particular would refuse to buckle in the face of some aggressive Argentinian tactics. Battered and bruised, the FC Bayern man would dispel any lingering doubts about his commitment with a display that would truly mark him as one of Germany’s greats. Pretty it may not have been, but the truly heroic rarely is.
Then the moment would come. Schürrle turning on the afterburners and charging down the left. The floated cross. The chested down volley from Götze. A goal truly worthy of any World Cup Final.
Conclusion and Ratings
In a tight match that would see both teams have chances to win, it would rightly be settled with a goal to remember. The game had been billed as a battle between the best team and the best player in Argentina’s Lionel Messi, but another individual would settle the issue with a moment of genius. At half time in extra time, Götze would be given a final few words of encouragement by the coach: “show the world you are better than Messi”.
The response would be emphatic.
Is there more that needs to be said? Argentina would arguably have the most clear-cut chances, but in the end the game would would won by a team that had worked for each other over the course of two hours of pulsating drama. Manuel Neuer would have have a save to make but would once again be a commanding presence. The back four would hold firm to keep their opponents out, with Jérôme Boateng playing what was arguably the game of his life. Miroslav Klose would close the book on a glorious international career with a World Cup winners’ medal. Bastian Schweinsteiger, bleeding from a cut under his right eye, would epitomise the good old-fashioned values of past German teams that would continue to flow in the veins of this young and creative Mannschaft.
Then there was Götze, who would silence his doubters – I count myself among them – with that moment of magic. Can he possibly end up being better than Messi? Only time will tell. But on that balmy July evening in the Maracaña, it would be the little man from Memmingen who would be the toast of the footballing world. In each of Germany’s previous three World Cup victories the final had been settled by winning goal: Helmut Rahn in 1954, Gerd Müller in 1974 and Andy Brehme in 1990. In 2014, Götze would join these illustrious names having scored arguably the best winning goal of the lot.
The real architect of this success however would be the Jogi Löw. Unlike in 2012, this time he would put his complete trust in the players to step up and deliver. With the 4-3-3 experiment put aside for another later day, the Nationaltrainer would finally allow the this ten year project to bear the fruit it had promised for so long. His decision to concentrate more on set-pieces would be well worth the effort, and his carefully thought-out substitutions throughout the tournament would be nothing short of inspired. While he will perhaps always be the Maharishi Jogi, this time he would prove that he was smarter than the average bear.
Didn’t have to make a single save over the course of the 120 minutes, but would once again dominate his area completely. Might Higuaín have made more of that chance after twenty minutes if he had been up against someone else? Perhaps. Before the trophy presentation Neuer would be presented with the Golden Glove as the tournament’s best ‘keeper, something that had never been in doubt.
A commanding performance from the skipper, who would finally get his hands on that precious trophy. Covered his defensive duties with his usual authority, and would be his usual dangerous self going forward. Completed a staggering a team-leading 105 passes from 122 attempts – a success rate of 85%.
A titanic performance from the FC Bayern München centre-back. Never put a foot wrong all game, completed 86% of his passes, and took complete control of his opponents. Was always in position, and made a number of crucial challenges and clearances. Having already had a decent tournament Boateng would save his best for last, and would for me be the clear man of the match.
A patchy display from Hummels, who would look sluggish at times and was beaten for pace by Lionel Messi more than once. Almost let Rodrigo Palacio in at the end and was visibly tiring towards the end of the game. It is highly likely that he was still carrying the injury sustained earlier in the tournament.
Seen as the weakest link in the Viererkette, the reconstructed left-back would get better as the tournament went on. Would look slightly shaky under pressure, but would make up for that with no little grit and determination. The Schalke 04 man would end up in the book for a silly foul in the first half, but would almost open the scoring with a header that crashed off the post.
This was Schweinsteiger at his best. Calm, controlled and assured while retaining that legendary grit. Kept things ticking over in the middle of the park with his usual intelligent distribution, and was right in the thick of things during extra time. Emerged bruised, battered and bleeding – providing a number images that would enhance his warrior reputation.
A surprise start for the Borussia Mönchengladbach loanee following Sami Khedira’s late injury, and a sad ending after just thirty-two minutes. Suffered a nasty blow to the head after being crudely shoulder-charged by Ezequiel Garay. He would continue for a while after receiving treatment, but would eventually make way for André Schürrle. After the match, Kramer would say that he couldn’t remember most of the first half.
An indifferent game from Madrid-bound Bayern München man, who would almost gift Argentina the lead with a poor header that would set up Gonzalo Higuaín. Would drop slightly deeper after the enforced reshuffle and would have a few weak shots on goal in what was a steady rather than spectacular display.
Özil wouldn’t stand out, but would spend most of the time stretching out the opposition around and pulling the strings in midfield. Was replaced by Per Mertesacker in the closing stages of extra time.
The tireless Müller would be well shackled by the Argentinian defence, but would maintain a high tempo right until the end. He’d need just one more goal to win the golden boot for the second tournament running, but as he would show in a rather funny short interview after the game, he wouldn’t care too much about that.
Would have few opportunities in a tight contest, but would play his part. The Klose of twelve years ago may have made a little more of the half-chances that would come his way, but overall a satisfactory final World Cup match for the 16-goal record holder. Replaced by Mario Götze two minutes before the end of normal time.
Replaced Christoph Kramer after half an hour, and immediately injected his usual dose of pace and energy into what had been up to that point a fairly sterile left flank. Forced Argentinian ‘keeper Romero into two decent saves, and made that crucial run in extra time followed by the perfect cross that would be finished off by Mario Götze.
Replaced Miroslav Klose with two minutes of the ninety remaining, and some twenty-five minutes later would write himself into the record books. He would more than make up for his poor form earlier in the tournament in that one magical moment.
Came on for Mesut Özil to close things out at the end of extra time, and would have enough time to get one decent touch of the ball.
Neuer (2), Lahm (2), Boateng (1), Hummels (4), Höwedes (4), Schweinsteiger (1), Kramer (3), Müller (3), Özil (3), Kroos (3), Klose (3). Substitutes (until 90 mins): Schürrle (3), Götze (1).
Neuer (3), Lahm (2), Boateng (1), Hummels (4), Höwedes (3.5), Schweinsteiger (3), Kramer (3.5), Müller (3), Özil (4.5), Kroos (4.5), Klose (3). Substitutes (until 90 mins): Schürrle (2), Götze (2).
Neuer (2), Lahm (2), Boateng (1), Hummels (4), Höwedes (3), Schweinsteiger (1), Kramer (3), Müller (3), Özil (3), Kroos (4), Klose (3). Substitutes (until 90 mins): Schürrle (2), Götze (2).