RIO DE JANEIRO—In what has been a brilliant World Cup, this always felt like a final that would be settled by a moment of brilliance.
In tight games like this, especially in extra time, when limbs grow especially weary, there is always one chance that arrives that can make the difference between ecstasy and heartbreak. But when it came, it did not come from where we had all been expecting it.
With the eyes, hearts and minds of the world focused on what many had thought would be Lionel Messi’s date with destiny, it was Germany’s own Super Mario, Mario Gotze, who stepped up to the mark to place his name in the history books. His strike, just seven minutes from the end of extra time in Germany's 1-0 win, was worthy of winning any game.
Speaking to FIFA.com, Gotze said:
It's an unbelievable feeling, I don't know how to describe it. I just took the shot and didn't know what was happening. For us, the dream has become reality. I'm very proud of the team and extremely happy about everything that has happened here in Brazil. Every player in our team deserves praised and we're very proud to have won this trophy.
We shouldn’t really have been so surprised. Andre Schurrle—who probably embodied the sobriquet "super-sub" better than just about anyone during this tournament—was more than a handful for just about anybody he faced during this World Cup. He scored after coming on against Algeria in the last 16 and hit two more against Brazil in the semi-final.
His arrival on the half-hour on this occasion was necessitated by the concussion suffered by Christoph Kramer, himself only on the pitch because of an injury sustained by Sami Khedira during the warm-up to the match. Schurrle's galloping run down the left wing midway through the second half of extra time was followed by a first-time cross that was superbly controlled by Bayern Munich’s Gotze before being smashed past Romero’s despairing dive to earn victory and spare his country the lottery of spot-kicks.
It’s also worth noting that Gotze himself had only come on in the 88th minute for another World Cup legend, Miroslav Klose.
And the final outcome is also a triumph for European football against a backdrop of what had been billed as a Latin American Football Fiesta where everything from the fans, pitches, heat, humidity and difference of culture would be too much for Brazil’s European guests.
But the dividing lines between triumph and disaster can be cruelly thin, especially on the biggest of footballs stages.
The game started predictably with Germany having most of the possession while playing a high line, and Argentina looking to counter on the break. With less than 15 minutes gone, despite having meagre possession, Argentina had made at least three incursions into the German’s penalty area.
But apart from a moment of magic, this was a match that always had the potential to be settled by a cataclysmic error.
When Toni Kroos sent his header into the path of Gonzalo Higuain after just 21 minutes, the likelihood was that the Napoli striker on any given day in any ground would have dispatched it to have given his side what would possibly have been a match-winning lead. But he panicked, failed to make clean contact with his shot that went wide.
Messi also came close to making history only for his shot to be slightly scuffed past the Manuel Neuer's left-hand post.
But with the game delicately poised—Sergio Aguero probably a little lucky to still be on the pitch following a scratch-elbow on Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Argentina going for it with three forwards and not enough defence to deal with the German pace—that is when the decider came.
Which means Leo Messi might have to wait another four years before achieving his date with destiny.
But by then, next season even, he will be a different Leo. A No. 10, never again a No. 9.