Mario Goetze of Germany (left) celebrates with his team-mate Thomas Mueller after scoring the solitary goal of the World Cup soccer final against Argentina at the Maracana stadium on Sunday. (Getty Images)
A fabulous goal by substitute Mario Goetze six minutes from the end of extra-time secured Germany not only a fourth World Cup at the expense of Argentina but saw them create 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 fewer but far better chances before Germany, as time went on, finally ground them down.
Goetze, introduced into the game three minutes before the end of normal time, ran clear through the inside left slot as fellow substitute Andre Schuerrle raced down the wing and pulled three defenders to him. The Chelsea man released the ball perfectly; unmarked Goetze took it on his chest and then volleyed home left-footed.
The Bayern Munich youngster’s strike was a goal well worthy not only of winning a World Cup but winning such a dramatically enthralling World Cup as this one.
Historic experience favoured Germany, in their record eighth final compared with Argentina’s five. But history, while a curio, meant nothing. Nor did the fact that Germany had put seven goals past Brazil in the semi-finals; the hosts, as demonstrated by their three-goal defeat in the third-place match, were the palest of yellow shadows of their illustrious predecessors.
Brazil’s honour, surprisingly considering all the concerns in the run-up to the finals, had been achieved in a successful staging of the tournament. Flight and hotel prices had been ramped up to the usual levels of World Cup host extortion. That apart the stadiums were magnificent (including the white elephant candidates) and Brazilians generously welcoming.
Too welcoming, in terms of their own national team.
After the self-immolation of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team only one worse possibility remained, a victory for Argentina in the Maracana, soul of Brazilian football.
German coach Joachim Loew had no intention of allowing such an outcome.
So much for the best-laid plans of mice, men and football coaches. All Loew’s calculations were disturbed 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 half-hour, 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 appearance in the final came to an end. The Borussia Moenchengladbach 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 winger Schuerrle.
A measure of German dislocation thus far was the count of two early yellow cards 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 chipping 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. Schuerrle 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.