Germany are world champions.
Journalists are told to never bury the lede, so let's get that out of the way first and foremost. The 2014 World Cup final was billed as the best team in the tournament against its best individual player, and in the end it was the collective that won out over the cult of a single personality.
Those who witnessed the 2010 World Cup final likely experienced a certain amount of deja vu as events unfolded at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday. Once again, a tight, occasionally frantic 0-0 game was finally decided deep into extra-time. Once again, one team dominated possession, as the other increasingly resorted to physical play to stay in the contest. In the end, it was the former strategy that won out.
Just as Andres Iniesta was Spain's hero four years ago, it was Germany's Mario Gotze who grabbed immortality this time around with a brilliant control and volley to beat Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero in the second period of extra time—securing the 1-0 victory and Germany's fourth world title.
The statistics might suggest Argentina, who failed to muster a single shot on target all game, never deserved to win the biggest prize in world football. This is perhaps true but they did have their chances—Gonzalo Higuain, Rodrigo Palacio and, yes, Lionel Messi all failing to force Manuel Neuer into a save with glorious opportunities that more than equaled anything Germany created.
Let off on more than one occasion, Germany eventually took full advantage, with Gotze becoming the first substitute for 28 years to score in the final of a World Cup. He was provided the chance by another substitute, Andre Schurrle, who had been introduced after Christoph Kramer had been forced off in the first half with a head injury.
Germany's bad luck with injuries, which has forced Joachim Low's hand for weeks if not months, continued in this game, with Kramer both a casualty and, before that, a beneficiary.
He only started the game (his first competitive start for the national team) after Sami Khedira was injured in the warm-up. But, as they did when Marco Reus/Lars Bender/Ilkay Gundogan/Shkodran Mustafi and many other players went down along the way, Germany simply adjusted and moved on.
That they managed to push on and win the tournament is a testament to their depth, mental fortitude and organisation.
Despite not being able to pressure Neuer in the German net, Argentina remained evenly matched throughout. They may have ridden their luck on a couple of occasions—not least when Benedikt Howedes hit the post on the stroke of half-time—but the longer the game went on the more Argentina looked destined to earn penalties at the very least.
Gotze, alas, had other ideas.
It was fitting, in a way, that Gotze, 22, would score the winner and decide a tournament that in many respects has been dominated by 22-year-old attackers; Neymar the talisman for Brazil and James Rodriguez the emergent Colombian star and tournament top scorer.
Gotze began the World Cup in Germany's starting XI, before slowly being ousted by the veteran Miroslav Klose. But he came back in and delivered on the biggest stage of all.
Messi was denied his seminal moment. The best team had beaten the best player. As it should have. This is football, after all.
Results in brief - Day 32
Germany 1, Argentina 0
Germany win the 2014 World Cup.
1. Notes from Day 32
Simply the best?... FIFA's decision to award some individual prizes before the trophy presentation was bizarre, to say the least—as was one of their choices. Lionel Messi is clearly a great player, but he was surely not the best individual on show over the last month in Brazil. Yet, FIFA named him the tournament's MVP. One wonders if he only received the prize due to his Adidas affiliation, with the award also being sponsored by the German sports company. A personal view is that Toni Kroos should have taken the prize, although Arjen Robben, Thomas Mueller and James Rodriguez might be among those feeling a little slighted in that regard.
Dazed and confused... If Javier Mascherano's head injury in the semi-final did not convince FIFA that they need to act, then perhaps Christoph Kramer's experience on the biggest stage of all will. The German midfielder suffered a clear head injury in a sickening clash with Ezequiel Garay, but stayed on the pitch for over 10 minutes before finally being substituted, clearly still woozy. It is time for football to introduce a proper concussion protocol, before a player is seriously injured.
Good job, good effort... Referee Nicola Rizzoli did not have a perfect game, but he did well to resist the temptation to book too many players, or produce the dreaded red card that could have artificially altered the flow of the contest. Mascherano and Sergio Aguero might have both been candidates for a second yellow in different circumstances, but Rizzoli was right to err on the side of leniency. He allowed the players to decide the game for themselves.
2. Quote of the Day
3. Tweet of the Day
4. Goal of the Day
There can only be one.
5. A good day for...
Diego Maradona. His status as the pre-eminent idol of Argentine football remains firmly secure, for at least another four years.
6. A bad day for...
Marco Reus. Ilkay Gundogan. Lars Bender. Sven Bender. All the other German players who may have been involved in this squad but for injury. In four years time this is still likely to be a very hungry, determined group.
7. Tomorrow's schedule
There are no more games in the World Cup. But fear not, the Premier League starts again on August 16.
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