RIO DE JANEIRO, July 14, 2014 – A brilliant goal by substitute Mario Gotze, six minutes from the end of extra time, secured Germany not only a fourth World Cup at the expense of Argentina but saw them achieve history as the first European nation ever to win football’s greatest prize in the Americas.
Two horrendously tired teams had battled themselves to a near standstill. Argentina will forever rue the knowledge that they created the few but far better chances before Germany, as time went on, finally ground them down.
Gotze, introduced into the game three minutes before the end of normal time, ran clear through the inside left slot as fellow substitute Andre Schurrle raced down the wing and pulled three defenders to him. The Chelsea man released the ball perfectly, Gotze took it on his chest and then volleyed it home left-footed.
The Bayern Munich youngster’s strike was a goal well worthy of winning a World Cup – and perfect to win such a dramatically thrilling World Cup as this one.
The most dramatically entertaining of modern World Cups had deserved a Final of explosive excitement. It did not work out like that. But it was decided by the most explosively exciting of winning goals.
Sadly for Leo Messi, it did not come from the Argentinian, the man with the outstanding talent most likely to register such a goal. Messi, wearied, had one last opportunity to save the day with the last kick – a free kick – of the game. He clipped it high over the bar instead and moments later Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli was blowing his final whistle.
Germany – then West – had lost the 1986 Final 3-2 to Argentina and then ground out revenge four years later in Rome, defeating Argentina with a late penalty in Rome to set up this mutual decider.
The portents for this final had been all about an absorbing, engrossing piece of serious theatre rather than a soap opera and that was how it played out.
Not that all went according to plan for Germany coach Joachim Low. All his calculations were disturbed just before kickoff when Sami Khedira felt a calf muscle injury in the warm-up and had to be replaced, at a few minutes’ notice, by Christoph Kramer.
As predicted, Germany pursued possession while Argentina snapped back eagerly on to the counter-attack. The electric pace of Messi, down the right, soon tested the legs and resistance of Benedikt Howedes.
Argentina should have taken the lead after 20 minutes. Toni Kroos, off balance, headed a loose ball back beyond his own central defenders. That left Gonzalo Higuain free and clear. Remarkably, he dragged his shot wide of Manuel Neuer’s right-hand post.
Just on the halfhour Higuain did pop the ball into the net following a flowing move between Messi on the left and Ezequiel Lavezzi from the right. Fortunately for Germany, again, Higuain had been offside when Lavezzi crossed.
At this point Germany suffered further disruption when Kramer’s surprise appearahnce in the final came to an end. The Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder had taken an early and accidental blow to the side of his head from Martin DeMichelis. Still shaken, he had not recovered and was replaced by Schurrle.
A measure of German dislocation thus far was the count of two early yellow crowd for both midfield anchor Bastian Schweinsteiger and Howedes. Yet they nearly had a goal of their own right on half-time as Mats Hummels thundered Kroos’s right-wing corner against keeper Sergio Romero’s left-hand post.
Argentina, encouraged by their creative opportunities, replaced winger Lavezzi at half-time with an out-and-out striker in Sergio Aguero. Appropriately they immediately created another opening when Messi darted in from the left but, surprisingly for him, stabbed his shot just wide of Neuer’s left-hand post.
The tension and temper began to ramp up as fatigue cut in and team shapes grew ragged. Higuain took a blow in the face from Neuer’s knee in chasing one through ball, Klose had a soft header caught easily by Romero and both Mascherano and Aguero were booked for chippng away at Klose and Schweinsteiger.
Messi put in one typical dash and shot – wide – but, gradually, Germany began to wind up the pressure for almost the first time. Schurrle lost control after some neat inter-passing through the Argentina defence then Kroos mis-hit a clear shooting chance wide after Mesut Ozil opened up the South Americans on the right.
So to extra time and the ultimate denouement.
Germany: Neuer – Lahm, Boateng, Hummels, Howedes – Kramer (Schurrle 30), Schweinsteiger, Kroos – Muller, Klose, Ozil.
Argentina: Romero – Zabaleta, DeMichelis, Garay, Rojo – Biglia, Mascherano, Perez – Messi, Higuain (Palacio 77), Lavezzi (Aguero 46).
Referee: Rizzoli (Italy). Att: 74,738.
Golden Ball (best player): Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Golden Glove (best goalkeeper): Manuel Neuer (Germany)
Golden Boot (top scorer): James Rodriguez (Colombia, six goals)
Young player: Paul Pogba (France)
Fair play: Colombia