Four years ago in South Africa, the footballing world looked in awe as a young German side slashed their way through the knockout stages of the World Cup; before succumbing to eventual champions Spain in the Semi-Finals. Then and there the seeds of future expectation were sown. The question on everyone’s lips: Just how good would this precocious and talented crop of players be the next time the World Cup rolled around in Brazil? The answer was provided emphatically last night in Rio De Janeiro. They would be the best. Germany are World Champions once more; Joachim Low’s men have come of age on the grandest of stages. Mario Gotze’s winner deep into extra time secured a 1-0 victory over Argentina, clinching a fourth World Cup for Germany, their first triumph in Football’s showpiece event for 24 years.
Yesterday evening’s showdown, the 20th ever Fifa World Cup Final; was dominated by one storyline: Lionel Messi’s quest for glory. Messi, almost certainly the greatest player of his generation is no longer considered a mere mortal, he is more a of a cult figure, a legend of the game. In order to cement his status alongside two of the greatest footballers to ever grace a pitch: Pele and Maradona, it was imperative that Messi followed in their footsteps; guiding his nation to World Cup glory. He knew it and the world knew it also, this was his golden opportunity; the chance to place a streak of silver lining on a magnificent career. Whilst it could not be disputed that Argentina’s chances hinged largely on Messi’s genius; Germany on the other hand were touted as the most well rounded team in the tournament. Sturdy in defence and potent in attack, Joachim Low’s Die Mannschaft resembled a flying death machine in the semi-finals; crushing the hosts Brazil by a jaw-dropping 7-1 score line and bringing a nation to its knees in the process. The stage was set for the final encounter, a ruthless and efficient German unit up against a battle hardened Argentine team, spearheaded by a footballing demi-God.
Right from the outset it was clear Germany would not be able to brush Argentina aside in the same manner as their South American neighbours. The Argentines had not conceded a single goal in the knockout phase of the tournament. Their back four, protected by Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano playing in a defensive midfield role, seemed up to the task of breaking down Germany’s fluid attacking play in the games early going. Argentina were content to sit back and soak up the German pressure before launching lightning fast counter-attacks, with Messi and Lavezzi sprinting full throttle at the German defence, looking to supply their lone striker Gonzalo Higuain. The German’s were rattled. For a period in the first half it seemed Alejandro Sabella had concocted the perfect foil to the German’s measured passing game. It was the men in blue who were able to carve out clearer cut goal scoring opportunities in the opening 30 minutes. Their failure to take these opportunities would prove fatal. Higuain, a man regarded as one of the world’s most clinical finishers found himself clean through on goal after an errant header backwards by Germany’s Toni Kroos. In acres of space with time on the ball, he dragged a pitiful effort wide of goal. Just before the half hour mark Higuain was in again. A terrific attacking move by Argentina saw Messi play a clever reverse pass out wide to Lavezzi, who whipped in a low cross that Higuain steered beyond Manuel Neuer in the German goal . Whilst the striker wheeled away to celebrate wildly the linesman raised his flag for offside. Pulses were racing and the favourites seemed to be reeling. Inevitably, Germany began to turn the tables. The introduction of Andre Schurrle to the game, on for Sami Khedira’s last minute replacement Christoph Kramer who failed to recover from a blow to the head early on the match, saw the Germans pick up the pace. They began to settle into a rhythm, their passing much more forceful and direct. The opening half concluded with Germany on the front foot. Left back Benedikt Howedes struck the post with a close range headed effort just before the whistle signalled for half time.
By the end of the first half it was clear we had a true final on our hands. Two closely matched teams battling tooth and nail for football’s most prestigious title, something had to give. 45 minutes gone and Messi had yet to make a telling contribution to the game. The man whose spectre loomed over the final as Christ the Reedemer hovers over the city of Rio De Janeiro, was running out of time to grab his slice of footballing immortality. He sensed it and made his move early on in the second half. In a manoeuvre we’ve seen him execute countless times before in a Barcelona shirt; the 27 year burst into the penalty area and attempted to roll a side footed finish into the corner of the net. Agonizingly, he pulled his golden opportunity wide of the post. As the game wore on goalless and the tension increased, the crisp quality of the first half was replaced by bad-tempered, hard hitting Football. Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger was outstanding. The epitome of a box to box midfielder, he threw himself into challenge after challenge with reckless abandon and desire. Germany were up against an Argentine side renowned for their warrior like toughness; but were proving they were just as gritty and battle-hardened as their opponents. Jerome Boateng, a member of the German youth movement of four years earlier in South Africa did a wonderful job stifling the Argentine attack. He swarmed Messi and Aguero, hounding them down whenever they picked up the ball within range of the penalty area; an imposing figure, enjoying an imposing game.
After a tense second half in which neither side were able to dominate for an extended period, the game would move into extra time; the third consecutive final to do so. As the players stretched and hydrated, preparing for the most arduous 30 minute spell of football they would ever have to endure in their careers, one had to wonder, could Argentina do it again? Would the blue steel of the Albiceleste pull out another hard fought victory? The extra time period began at a frenetic pace; neither side seemed keen on the prospect of a penalty shootout. Germany started with intent; Andre Schurrle had a close range effort beaten away by Argentina’s goal keeper Romero. Up the other end Argentina fluffed their third and final glaring opportunity. Through on goal with German goalkeeper Maneul Neuer rushing out, second half substitute Rodrigo Polacio sent a lobbed effort high and wide. After a frantic start to extra time, the game became increasingly flaccid and fatigued, 22 pairs of tired legs looked set for a penalty shootout. That was until Germany’s golden moment finally arrived. Schurrle’s lung-bursting run down the left wing culminated in a cross into the box which was expertly controlled by Mario Gotze. The 22 year old Bayern Munich man brought on for Miroslav Klose in the second half, then fired an accurate left footed volley beyond a helpless Romero and into the corner of the net. The resolve that had carried the South Americans to the final had finally been broken, they could resist no longer, trailing in a game for the first and only time in the tournament. Gotze’s goal sparked euphoric celebrations from the German bench; they knew they were within touching distance of a historic triumph. Before the final whistle blew; Messi would have one final say. The last meaningful kick of the game would fittingly fall to the world’s greatest player. Argentina had a free-kick 30 yards from goal. Messi’s final effort summed up his World Cup, and indeed his international career- promising, yet ultimately disappointing. He sent a dismal free kick high over the bar and seconds later the celebrations began. Germany, affectionately dubbed “Die Mannschaft” translated in English as “the team”, are not just a team, they are champions with the perfect blend of youth and experience. The golden generation from four years ago have come of age and it’s highly likely the sight of Germany lifting football’s greatest prizes becomes a familiar one.