In the annals of the World Cup few will remember last night’s encounter between Argentina and Germany as one of the better finals. If anything the clash that took place at the historic Estádio Maracanã was not the finale that such a fantastic tournament deserved. And yet few can claim that Mario Götze’s stunning goal was not deserving of winning the tournament.
Having brutally dismantled hosts Brazil 7-1 in the semi-final, the Germans came into the match hot favorites with few pundits willing to place their mortgages on an Argentine side that had contrived to eliminate the Netherlands via penalties. And yet, before kick-off, the Germans faced a severe setback when defensive midfielder Sami Khedira was ruled out after injuring himself in the warm-up. Khedira, who had just overcome a lengthy injury to find form at the World Cup, was replaced by Christoph Kramer, who would make just his fifth international appearance.
For all the talk of German domination before kick-off, it was the Lionel Messi & Co that repeatedly threatened Manuel Neuer’s goal. As Germany committed more men forward, Argentina found their opponents vulnerable on the break and threatened through some admirable counter-attacking plays. However, after 20 minutes it was through a German mistake that Argentina almost took the lead. After Toni Kroos sloppily headed the ball towards his goalkeeper, Gonzalo Higuain latched onto the ball with just Neuer to beat, only to slip the ball past the German goalkeeper’s post.
As the entire Argentine bench tried to comprehend Higuain’s embarrassing miss, the Napoli striker thought he had made amends 9 minutes later when he beat Neuer from Ezequiel Lavezzi’s cross only to have the linesman rightfully flag for offside. As Argentina continued to rue Higuain’s miss, the Germans had problems of their own, as Kramer was substituted for André Schürrle after Ezequiel Garay accidentally clashed with the Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder. With both sides preparing for half-time, Benedikt Howedes somehow failed to give the Germans the lead with a header that cannoned off the post.
The second half was a similar affair to the first, with the Germans controlling much of the play and the Argentines wasteful before goal with Messi missing the kind of chance that he puts away for fun at Barcelona. On the positive side for Argentina, Javier Mascherano continued to play the game of his life and Germany struggled to create too many clear chances. As Argentina continued to break, however, it was Rodrigo Palacio, on for the substituted Higuain, who was the latest culprit, trying to delicately loft the ball over Neuer instead of thumping it past the Bayern Munich goalkeeper. It was becoming all too familiar.
As penalties looked likely to decide the winners, some intricate build-up play by the Germans ensured that Alejandro Sabella’s side would pay for profligacy. Beating his man on the left-flank, substitute Schürrle crossed over to Götze who somehow chested the ball down before volleying past the hapless Sergio Romero. With the clock ticking down, Argentina’s handful of attempts to respond were fruitless. Germany, the host nation’s executioner in the semi-final, not only seized their fourth World Cup title, but deservedly became the first European side to win the tournament in the Americas.
What we learned about… Germany: What can you say? After some incredible displays, few would question that the Germans thoroughly deserved being crowned 2014 World Cup champions. This was hardly one of the better performances from Joachim Löw’s side, however, but what’s frightening is the strength in depth and the quality of young players Germany has coming through. The Germans had the sixth youngest squad in Brazil; even the young are now experienced. Even some of the older players like Neuer and Hummels will go to Russia in four years aged just 32 and 29 respectively. Can the Germans dominate international soccer like Spain? Only an insane person would question their ability to do so.
What we learned about… Argentina: Much of the talk before the World Cup was whether Argentina could ease their reliance on captain Lionel Messi. Despite a few stand out performances from players such as Pablo Zabaleta and Mascherano, the Argentines looked like a one-man team throughout, struggling to overcome Iran and Switzerland until the Barcelona forward turned on his magic. By the time of the final, Messi looked burnt out. The missed opportunities in the final will hurt for weeks (if not years) to come, but this was hardly a performance to be ashamed of. It was, however, still not deserving of the prize.
Ewan Watt writes extensively on state and national issues in the US, covering the 2012 presidential election for both print and online publications. He is providing commentary for the Daily Caller on a regular basis throughout the World Cup. He writes strictly in a personal capacity. You can follow him on Twitter at @ewancwatt