The final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup wasn't decided by its top stars. Instead, Germany and Argentina toiled through a physical battle where rugged centre-backs and destructive midfielders shone.
One player belonging to the latter group was Bastian Schweinsteiger. He quite literally spilled blood for the cause as a tireless battler at the heart of the Germany midfield.
Further forward, Schweinsteiger received able support from a playmaker often derided for sluggish showings during this World Cup.
Despite being on the losing side, Argentina talisman Lionel Messi produced some bright moments. The pint-sized trickster was particularly dangerous during the first half.
Here's a closer look at three of the final's top stars and how they fared, beginning with Schweinsteiger:
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Midfielder, Germany
If there was one German player who simply refused to lose, it was Bastian Schweinsteiger. The experienced midfield pass master endured a gruelling game.
He was routinely sent tumbling by Argentine tackles that pushed the rules to their limit. But for all the bumps and scrapes he sustained, Schweinsteiger never shied away.
Instead, he remained at the forefront of his nation's efforts to match Argentina's physicality. But Schweinsteiger's brave showing wasn't all about mixing it in the middle.
He was sure and efficient in possession. The Bayern Munich man contributed some intelligent passing to get his team moving. His contributions were key in eventually finding an opening in a stubborn Argentine defence:
Bastian Schweinsteiger's World Cup final in numbers: 90% pass accuracy 4 tackles won 1 chances created What a hero. pic.twitter.com/Zxao2NbeYc— Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 13, 2014
Schweinsteiger delivered as close to a complete performance as possible. He absolutely deserves the highest marks on this list.
Mesut Ozil, Attacking Midfielder, Germany
Mesut Ozil spent most of this World Cup receiving criticism for what many judged to be a series of mediocre showings. However, a closer look revealed that the Arsenal man was still offering his familiar, steady supply of creativity.
The final was actually one of Ozil's busier games. He buzzed around the pitch at Brazil's iconic Maracana Stadium.
For what felt like the first time in a long while, Ozil showed a real willingness and desire to get on the ball. His efforts drew praise from certain pundits:
Re: Özil Guess when you play good in a World Cup Final, the "never turns up in at big games" can be put in the bucket— Jan Aage Fjortoft (@JanAageFjortoft) July 13, 2014
Ozil's case was helped by the substitution that saw Andre Schurrle enter the fray for the unfortunate Christoph Kramer. The latter had to be replaced after receiving a brutal knock barely 30 minutes into his first Germany start, per Daily Mirror reporter Joe Hall.
Schurrle's introduction meant Ozil could come off the left flank and occupy a central position. That put the prolific creator in the best position to probe for spaces between Argentina's packed defensive lines.
Lionel Messi, Forward, Argentina
It would be fair to call Messi's final a little stop-start. He began the match deployed wide in a front three featuring natural No. 9 Gonzalo Higuain through the middle.
That's not a role that normally suits Messi. It's ironic, then, that his best moments in the match often came from wide areas.
He was a constant threat to dart behind Germany's high defensive line. Messi's tricky runs were causing problems and attracting lots of attention whenever he received the ball.
However, it's what he didn't do after the break that will be remembered by most.
Messi squandered two favourable chances to score. They were opportunities he has so often taken during his career. Yet with the pressure of expectation on him, Messi's feared left foot failed him.
He found it difficult to find space and influence a static Argentina attack during most of the later stages of the match. Even the awarding of the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player doesn't mask Messi's inability to really shine when it mattered most:
Ultimately, it was Germany's midfield strength that won the final. That pattern has pervaded the entire tournament.
The Germans simply possess too many energetic and creative talents in the middle. Their depth has decided the biggest games.
Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira dominated in the semi-final rout of Brazil. It was Schweinsteiger and Ozil's turn to deliver in the final.
Meanwhile, Messi is left to reflect on a lost chance to ensure his legacy as one of football's all-time greats.