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World Cup 2014

’54, ’74, ’90, 2014 – Germany 1-0 Argentina – World Cup Final Match Review

An extra-time Mario Götze winner sent Argentine fans into despair and their German counterparts into scenes of jubilation, as the 20th World Cup drew to an enthralling, exciting close – if not one filled with goals, or even a superior side. Nevertheless, this is Germany’s fourth World Cup win in the history of the tournament – fans of German football music or just general football history will recall their triumphs in 1954, 1974 and 1990 – but this may well be the sweetest yet. While Germany were listed in the pre-tournament favourites, their hopes were hit by injuries and a reasonably slow start, something reflected actually in the run of play on Sunday evening at the Maracana, but they are now, fittingly, the Champions of the World. Argentina, meanwhile, showed themselves to be worthy runners-up, giving the German defence a number of scares in the second half in particular, something the Germans acknowledged post-match, forming a guard of honour as Argentina, led by Lionel Messi, collected their runners-up medals.

Story of the Game

Both sides attempted to gain a feeler for their opponent in the opening minutes, Argentina also still getting used to Christoph Kramer’s late introduction to the game following an injury to Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira; as such, both sides pretty much reverted to type – or at least, the type we’ve seen all tournament – Germany pulling the strings and passing neatly among themselves as Argentina sat back and looked to hurt Germany on the break, the three-pronged attack of Messi, Higuain and Lavezzi sure to menace the German rearguard.

Argentina’s front-men were the first to pose a real threat. Germany had a free-kick in a dangerous area, relatively central to the Argentinian goal, but nothing came of it, Argentina instead pouncing on the counter, outnumbering Germany on the break and the ball eventually reaching Gonzalo Higuain, who flashed across the face of goal after nice build-up by Lavezzi. Germany’s best attacking movement was coming from the right hand side, Philipp Lahm and Thomas Müller combining very neatly in the early minutes of the game. One such combination, almost directly after the missed Higuain chance, nearly drew first blood for Germany. Lahm fed Müller, who drilled a ball deep into the area towards the likes of Mesut Özil and World Cup record goalscorer Miroslav Klose, but the Bayern midfielder’s ball wasn’t aimed very well, hitting an Argentine defender and trickling almost apologetically into the gloves of AS Monaco’s Sergio Romero.

From the ensuing Argentine counter, Lionel Messi surged past Mats Hummels – twice in one action – before squaring for his countrymen in the middle, having reached the byline. Rather than a South American boot on the end of a magical stretch of the legs from Messi, it was Bastian Schweinsteiger who made the vital contact, hacking the ball clear of the area, eliminating all immediate danger. Lahm had an entertaining dash down the right wing minutes later, squaring for Miroslav Klose whose outstretched leg couldn’t quite make the all-meaningful contact the build-up move for it had perhaps deserved.

Moments later, late arrival to the first XI, Christoph Kramer, who, remember, hadn’t even been named in the provisional 30-man squad before impressing in that pre-tournament friendly against Poland and making the final cut, was in the wars. On the edge of the box, Kramer challenged Garay for the ball, but felt the full force of Garay’s side in the head, leaving the Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder concussed and seemingly dazed. While he tried to play through it, there wasn’t to be the Javier Mascherano-like performance that viewers across Germany dreamed of, Kramer coming off not long later. It was a shame for him personally, as well as Germany who had lost a player who had already shown several good touches, and had to alter their shape, bring on a winger in Andre Schürrle.

At this early stage, Germany had around 75% possession, but both sides were creating a similar amount of chances – this quite clearly showed the game plans of the respected sides that we’d all expected. Interestingly, Argentina looked the more dangerous of the two sides, and they were about to prove that again. A rather clumsy build-up on the counter for Argentina led to a breakdown in attack, Germany winning the ball back in a central area with Napoli’s Higuain miles offside. A high ball, however, fooled Toni Kroos, who in a moment of madness misjudged a header which flew past the two centre backs, Boateng and Hummels, and directly into Higuain’s stride. Fortunately for Kroos, however, his blushes were spared, as Higuain dragged a shot wide under pressure from an onrushing Neuer. It was poor – let that be said – and could have been a defining moment in the game if it swung momentum Germany’s way.

It didn’t, though. Sure, Germany had further chances in the first half; it’s just that Argentina probably had the better, with momentum actually growing in their favour before half-time. Argentina had the ball in the net, through that man Gonzalo Higuain, not long later. A sweeping counter found Ezequiel Lavezzi, whose whipped ball around the German defence found Higuain who this time made no mistake, firing neatly past Neuer and wheeling off in jubilation. Awkwardly, the Argentine hadn’t realised he was a good yard offside, having completely mistimed his run, sparking disappointment in the Argentine sections of the crowd and indeed on the touchline.

Germany swept down the left almost immediately after and Müller set free Schürrle, whose high drive was slightly deflected off the back of Mesut Özil and was well saved by Romero; Özil tried to bury the rebound, but firstly – didn’t, and secondly – was offside at the time of Schürrle’s shot, so it wouldn’t have counted anyway. Messi then found himself in the area after a gliding run from wide, but he was crowded out in the area, with Jerome Boateng slicing clear off the line. It was an excellent piece of defending by the Berlin-born defender, but Messi really ought to have done more with what was a golden chance.

Özil continued the frenetic, counter-attacking vibe of the game, pacing past two Argentine men before squaring to Toni Kroos, whose shot wide lacked the necessary conviction to challenge Romero in the Argentine goal. It could have been a tame end to a pulsating first half, but fortunately yet more excitement was to follow on the stroke of half time.

Benedikt Höwedes rose highest at the final corner of the half, winning a free header but unfortunately striking the inside of the post. It was a beautiful header, one which was also very powerful too, but lacked the necessary direction to nestle into the net – that was all it really needed to hoist Germany into a 1-0 lead. Thomas Müller tried to slice the rebound in, but Romero was equal to it again, while Müller had been offside anyway – it wouldn’t have counted. Nevertheless, it was an exciting end to a first half which blew all memories of that torrid Johannesburg night out of the water.

The second half started with Argentina on top, Messi presented – almost immediately – with the best chance of the game until that point. The diminutive forward took the ball past Boateng with a drop of the shoulder, but his left footed shot was scuffed just past the post, as Manuel Neuer looked on helplessly. It looked, though, that Argentina were getting closer. Messi was growing into the game while Germany’s high line, which pundits made so much of earlier in the tournament, was beginning to be called into question again. Schürrle soon took matters into his own hands, however, skipping down the left wing and into the box. The Chelsea forward was fouled, but the ball trickled out to Müller whose blocked cross earned his side a corner – and a chance to put Germany in front. That didn’t happen, though, Argentina countering, as Higuain challenged Neuer for a ball on the edge of the area which Neuer punched clear, hurting the Napoli forward in the process. It was almost like a not-as-bad Schumacher in 1982 moment, because Neuer clearly only had eyes for the ball and Higuain wasn’t too badly hurt, but the striker did leave the field moments later, anyway, Palacio replacing him.

Schürrle created another opportunity, this time having his cross deflected behind the onrushing Mesut Özil who could only flick wide. Müller then fed Schürrle, but the Chelsea man’s body wasn’t open to the pass, so he dallied on the ball and lost it to a defender. Kroos missed a near-carbon copy of his first half effort towards the end of the half, as Germany went for the jugular, but it was the last real chance of normal time, so we went on for a further half an hour. Would extra time provide a winner?

Well, yes. But not immediately. Schürrle very nearly opened the scoring in a similar fashion to against Algeria earlier in the tournament, but his shot was dealt with well by Romero from close range. Minutes later, substitute Palacio found himself alone in the box with Manuel Neuer, and, under pressure, opted to awfully lob the goalkeeper rather than sensibly take a shot. This went feebly wide, letting Germany off the hook after leaving themselves too open at the back. Mats Hummels looked a shadow of the man earlier in the tournament – hell, even earlier in the final – as it became clear that he was suffering from the injury which forced him off at half time in the semi, still. He carried on, though, sitting a lot deeper than Jerome Boateng but providing some key passes and tackles as the game wore on.

The first half of extra time finished with no more real incident, other than a horrible tackle by Mascherano on Schweinsteiger which should have earned the Barcelona midfielder a second yellow. Sergio Agüero followed suit minutes later, punching Schweinsteiger in the face in a challenge for the ball, but he also wasn’t deemed worthy of punishment by referee Nicola Rizzoli. Finally, though, the game was opening up again, though.

Andre Schürrle received the ball deep on the left, and he ran his man Pablo Zabaleta well. Getting to the byline, Schürrle squared towards Mario Götze, just on as a substitute, to apply a stylish finish past Sergio Romero. As well as being the winner – with just 6 minutes left on the clock for Argentina to reply – it was a historically significant goal in more than one sense. In November 2010, Mario Götze and Andre Schürrle came on as substitutes for Germany at the same time in a friendly against Sweden, for their debuts. These weren’t normal debuts, though – Schürrle and Götze were the first German national team players to have been born after the re-unification of Germany in October 1990, meaning that the combination for a goal which won Germany its first World Cup as a reunited country was fittingly scored and assisted by the duo. It was a nice goal, too, which always helps.

Lionel Messi had two late chances – heading over before firing a free kick wildly past Neuer’s goal – but it was Germany’s night. They are World Cup Champions for the fourth time, their first World Cup win since the summer of 1990, in which they also beat Argentina 1-0 in the final. Some things never change.

As the German band Sportfreunde Stiller put it in their 2006 World Cup anthem, “’54, ’74, ’90, 2006”, “The first time it was a Miracle, the second time lucky. The third time deserved, next time a sensation”. Looking back 8 years on, that’s probably a fitting summary of what this victory means to Germany.

Player Ratings (out of 10)

Manuel Neuer – 7: Wasn’t actually all too busy – Argentina didn’t get a shot on target in real time – but was a commanding presence and deserved the Golden Glove he picked up at the end.
Philipp Lahm – 7: Linked up well with Thomas Müller down the right – and, as the captain, the image of him lifting the trophy will go down in history forever.
Jerome Boateng – 8: Imperious doesn’t cover it. Boateng made several great tackles and interceptions, including the tackle of the tournament just after the re-start in the second half of extra time.
Mats Hummels – 6: Looked on his last legs towards the end, and was exposed a lot by Lionel Messi, but otherwise reasonably solid.
Benedikt Höwedes – 6: Missed two good chances, and didn’t cover Hummels very well, but again, an otherwise solid performance.
Bastian Schweinsteiger – 9: Proved yet again what a big game player he can be. Schweinsteiger was everywhere on the pitch, breaking up attacks and orchestrating ones of his own.
Christoph Kramer – 7: Was one of Germany’s bright sparks in the half hour he was on the pitch, a concussion suffered early on ruled him out for most of the proceedings though.
Thomas Müller – 7: Caused havoc throughout. Positive performance, just lacking the eye for goal somewhat.
Toni Kroos – 6: Pretty poor in an attacking role and didn’t trace runs when he dropped into the “Doppelsechs”. Not his finest hour.
Mesut Özil – 7: The Arsenal man has been unfairly derided all tournament long, but looked very good against Argentina. Maybe lacked the killer instinct in the final third at points.
Miroslav Klose – 7: Wore out the Argentina defence effectively, and ran almost until the end – no mean feat for a 36 year old. This triumph will be his crowning glory.
Andre Schürrle – 7: The Chelsea forward was wasteful in normal time, but was excellent in extra time, setting up the winner. Can’t argue with that.
Mario Götze – 8: A handy performance capped by a World Cup winning goal. Can’t fault that!
Per Mertesacker – 6: Only really had to win one header in his cameo, was probably more a symbolic move by Löw.

Sergio Romero – 7: Made several good saves, unlucky to be beaten by an excellent finish late on.
Pablo Zabaleta – 6: Didn’t attack very well, and didn’t really do much to negate Schürrle either. Baffling performance from the Manchester City defender.
Martin Demichelis – 7: Cut out several German attacks – maybe bolstered by his experience of playing with around half of the team in his stint with Bayern.
Ezequiel Garay – 7: Another good performance by Garay. Injured Christoph Kramer with a clumsy challenge, but let’s forgive and forget.
Marcos Rojo – 5: Terrorised all night by Müller and Philipp Lahm.
Javier Mascherano – 8: Pulled the strings for Argentina yet again. Forget Messi – Mascherano is this side’s key man.
Lucas Biglia – 7: Reasonable performance, certainly matched the German midfield for phases throughout.
Enzo Perez – 7: Similarly to Biglia, Perez looked at home in the midfield. Positive performance for the Benfica man.
Lionel Messi – 7: Showed glimpses of what he can do, but was limited to just that – glimpses.
Ezequiel Lavezzi – 8: Probably Argentina’s most creative attacker, though replaced at half time with Agüero.
Gonzalo Higuain – 5: Did his best Fred tribute act.
Sergio Agüero – 5: Aside from one lovely turn of pace, he wasn’t the Agüero we know from Manchester City. Struggling with injury though, so let’s not criticise too much.
Rodrigo Palacio – 5: Missed a fine chance in extra time. Oh well, Rodrigo.
Fernando Gago – 6: Didn’t really make an impression on the game.

Man of the Match

Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Bayern München midfielder was everywhere on the pitch, looking exactly like the player we all know he can be. This – at his peak as a player – will be his crowning moment. No more can he and his generation – the likes of Lahm, Mertesacker, Klose and Podolski – be labelled as bottlers. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out he covered every blade of grass, and while he was definitely played more in a defensive function than usual, that’s not entirely surprising given the presence of Lionel Messi in Argentina’s line-up. A worthy champion.

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