Scorer: Germany - Gotze 113
There were several moments that illustrated Argentina’s struggles to prevail in the lair of their rivals.
One of them was Lionel Messi sending a free-kick high over the bar in the final minutes as Argentina desperately sought to respond to Mario Götze’s goal seven minutes before the end of extra-time. Another was the sight of Messi vomiting on the pitch in the midst of a match into which he put great effort but could not conjure up the moment of inspiration that his country so desperately needed.
Instead it was Götze who became the pivotal figure after replacing Miroslav Klose towards the end of the 90 minutes. Argentina wore blue, Germany were in white – as was the case in 1990, when the countries also met in the final. But that’s where the similarities with that poor excuse for a football match ended. This was a contest fitting for a World Cup final held in the Maracana and though settled only by a single goal, it will live long in the memory.
There were warriors all over the pitch. Artists such as Messi found it difficult to excel but Götze’s goal was a delightful strike that saw him chest down fellow substitute Andre Schürrle’s cross before sending a neat volley into the net, as Argentina’s goal was finally breached in the 113th minute.
A crowd of 74,738 saw one of the misses of the tournament from Gonzalo Higuain and then watched the same player celebrate redeeming himself before realising the goal had been – correctly – struck off for off-side. This was all in the opening 30 minutes. Later came the sight of a bloodied Bastian Schweinsteiger, felled by a trailing hand from Sergio Aguero. The German midfielder’s performance from start to finish typified this German victory. While it might not have been as dashing as their thrashing of Brazil in the semi-final, the single goal from Götze earned them football’s greatest reward.
The drama had begun even before the first whistle sounded. Once again World Cup final team-sheets handed out to reporters were quickly rendered out of date by kick-off as Sami Khedira experienced the heartache of being injured in the warm-up. The moment recalled 1998, when Ronaldo’s name was missing from the team-line given out to reporters ahead of Brazil v France before he was hastily re-installed by the time the sides emerged. Khedira’s withdrawal was only part of the story; his replacement, Christophe Kramer, quickly pulled on a Germany jersey and prepared to make his first start for Germany. In the Maracana stadium. In a World Cup final. Marking Messi. The thought was a daunting one of course but the reason he left the pitch looking dazed was a sickening early collision with Ezequiel Garay. This led to the sad sight of the 23 year-old’s eventual departure after only 30 minutes.
After several days when Christ The Redeemer was hidden in low, heavy clouds, the weather cleared and though winter in the southern hemisphere, warm sunshine poured into the bowl-like stadium, before dipping behind the iconic statue in a scene of breath-taking beauty. The question of who would stand in the light, with arms outstretched took time to be resolved, but the wait simply added to the intrigue.
Messi had walked on to the pitch for the first time in his working clothes at 3.20pm local time and immediately took a moment to survey the scene and take stock. So many times he has been reminded this was his ultimate testing ground it is a wonder he had not spent the eve of this final whimpering to himself in a corner. He was tasked with leading Argentina to victory in the World Cup final, a feat that would serve to authenticate his claim to be the greatest player on the globe, perhaps of all time. Diego Maradona has spoken of his delight at this prospect, even though it would risk unseating him from Argentina’s pantheon of football greats. He offered to roll-out the red carpet himself as Messi sought to follow in the great player’s distinguished tread.
Deployed in the deeper role he has been handed of late, he took time to impose himself on the game before announcing his presence with a thrilling run down the right that left Mats Hummels trailing. There were shades of Maradona already but there were also reminders of why some are refusing to rank him on a par with the former owner of the Argentina No 10 shirt.
At corners, Messi’s instruction was to stay up field, while Higuain dropped back into his own box. How Argentina will wish this had still been the case when they were handed a golden opportunity to score the opening goal. Toni Kroos’ misplaced header gifted Higuain with the chance to run in on goal and through he had time to select how he would beat Manuel Neuer, his nerve deserted him and he hacked wide.
Although Messi would surely have made a better fist of this chance, he, too, was suspected of having left his shooting boots behind. When Messi was left with an opportunity to open the scoring just after half-time, it felt like this was his time, his moment. Destiny had fallen on to his left foot – just where he, and everyone else in Argentina, had wanted it. But he pulled his effort wide of the post. Germany escaped.
The World Cup trophy itself made a first appearance 15 minutes before kick-off, accompanied by Carles Puyol, former skipper of the now deposed Spanish team. The pomp and ceremony simply underlined what this signified, not only for Messi. He was not the only player being chased by the ghosts of history and the thief of time. Miroslav Klose started his second World Cup final. Now 36, he knew this represented a very special opportunity to end such a productive World Cup career on the ultimate high. However, Klose was well marshalled by the a defence that included two of the best performers in this tournament in Martin Demichelis and Javier Mascherano, who was again outstanding. Klose was replaced just before the end of 90 minutes by Götze and was granted the applause he deserved.
Germany’s best chances fell for Schürlle, whose first-half effort was well saved by Sergio Romero. Kroos then shot tamely at Romero after a Mesut Ozil lay-off. A header from Benedict Höewedes struck the outside of a post as somehow, the score remained goal-less at half-time, as it did remarkably, after 90 absorbing minutes.
There was little doubt who the locals were favouring, even given that result in Belo Horizonte. The 7-1 defeat signalled a period of introspection in Brazil but judging from the recent reaction, Germany are being credited with having done the local team a favour. In any case, any side knew they could count on the backing of the locals against Argentina, whose occupation of Rio has been marked by their provocative songs, particularly one, sung to the tune of Bad Moon Rising, that asks Brazilians how it feels to be bossed in their own country by their neighbours. But perhaps it was fitting that this marvellous World Cup ended with some late, blessed relief for the hosts.
Germany: Neuer, Lahm, Boateng, Hummels, Howedes, Kramer (Schurrle 32), Schweinsteiger, Muller, Kroos, Ozil (Mertesacker 120), Klose (Gotze 88). Subs Not Used: Zieler, Grosskreutz, Ginter, Khedira, Podolski, Draxler, Durm, Weidenfeller.
Argentina: Romero, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Rojo, Biglia, Mascherano, Perez (Gago 86), Higuain (Palacio 78), Messi, Lavezzi (Aguero 46). Subs Not Used: Orion, Campagnaro, Di Maria, Rodriguez, Augusto Fernandez, Federico Fernandez, Alvarez, Basanta, Andujar.