It was a game decided by the smallest of margins. Mario Gotze’s excellent finish in the second period of extra time was what it took for Germany to win this World Cup after nearly two hours of tightly contested, at times edgy, football. Argentina will bitterly regret spurning a host of gilt-edged chances, and Gonzalo Higuain in particular will remember this night for the rest of his life, for all the wrong reasons. Lionel Messi, the man to whom his whole country looked, couldn’t find a way to meaningfully affect the match. He faded badly and by the end looked a player absolutely exhausted and bereft of inspiration. His tournament, although good enough to win the Golden Ball as the best player, has not been the fairytale that many, if not expected, craved. Germany dominated possession predictably but were largely held at bay by an obdurate Argentina defence, marshalled superbly by the inspirational Javier Mascherano. But the Germans, as they do, found a way to drag themselves to victory, ending a 24 year wait.
Argentina made it clear from the kick off that they were going to be happy to allow Germany the majority of possession, hoping to hold them off and then break with speed. It was a strategy that many had anticipated, including surely Jogi Low. The onus was firmly on the Germans to break down the Argentine defence, one that had not conceded a goal in the knockout stages. They found it hard work in the first half, and the best chances to score fell to the South Americans, one glaring miss from Higuain being the stand out. Toni Kroos exhibited a bizarre lack of awareness when attempting a back-header to Manuel Neuer. Higuain, tracking back and in an offside position, was gifted the ball by Kroos’ mistake, and was clear through on goal. He had all the time he needed to get his shot away, but hooked the ball off his ankle, sending it spinning wide of Neuer’s right hand post. It was a chance that you would expect the Napoli forward to score 9 out of 10 times, and he held his head in his hands after missing. Mascherano’s disbelieving reaction to the miss was just as telling; a counter-attacking strategy relies on a team taking their chances, and Higuain had blown a glorious one here. Germany, a little rattled, regained composure and began probing in the attacking third, but, despite some slippery moments from Muller and Ozil, could not find a final pass of any substance.
Half an hour into the first half, Higuain had a chance to redeem himself, and had the ball in the back of the net after excellent work from Ezequial Lavezzi down the right hand side. He wheeled away in furious ecstasy, only to realize the flag had been raised correctly by the official. It was a bad offside for Higuain to commit, having been in the position to look right down the line of defence with time to position himself accordingly. Germany nearly had the lead themselves, at the very end of the first half, through a corner that Benedikt Howedes headed onto the post. Romero was beaten completely by the left back’s unchallenged header and the German should really have scored. It was a terrible bit of defending from Argentina, who might have had one eye on half time. Just before the corner, Muller had crossed for Klose but his ball was just out of reach of the veteran. Apart from that, it was a half of few German chances. Argentina on the other hand would live to rue their profligacy.
The second half started brightly, with Argentina again fashioning some very presentable opportunities for themselves. Messi was sent clear two minutes into the half, but shot wide. Neuer had to clatter Higuain in a panicked clearance, kneeing the forward in the head in the process. The Germans had a few moments of their own but again the Argentina defence were equal to the danger, keeping them at arms length. Sergio Aguero had been brought on at half time, for Lavezzi, which seemed a strange decision given the PSG man’s bright first half. One could only assume a late injury had been picked up. The game settled, meandered, and fizzled as extra time loomed. Kroos had a shooting chance that he placed wide, when he might have gone for power over precision. Messi was slowly drifting out of the game but Argentina were still holding firm defensively. A number of yellow cards were worrying for the South Americans however, and Mascherano’s in the 64th minute might have been key. He was the gatekeeper for Argentina, patrolling the zone in which Germany wanted to scuttle threateningly around. Schurrle, who had come on to replace the injured Kramer in the first half, was looking lively with his direct running and eager movement. But it was still goalless as the referee blew for the end of regulation time, so on to extra time we went.
Eight minutes into extra time Rodrigo Palacio had a fantastic opportunity to put Argentina in front. A raked ball over the top was chested down and suddenly Palacio was one on one with Neuer. The German keeper had rushed out promptly and Palacio attempted to lift the ball over him, only to send it wide of the post. The Argentinian’s initial chest control had been less considered than the situation had demanded, so the chipped finish was made very difficult. Germany were slowly rising to the occasion, still having almost all of the ball. Only more heroics from Mascherano kept them at bay for the first period of extra time.
Then the decisive moment. Mario Gotze, the 22 year old, who had been having a poor tournament thus far, made himself Germany’s golden boy. In the 113th minute, Schurrle began a surging run down the left flank. He outpaced two opposition defender, and sent in a peach of a cross that Gotze expertly controlled on his chest. With his next touch he sent the ball past Romero, spearing it into the net. It was a moment of brilliance from the Bayern Munich man, and a goal that Germany deserved, though Romero’s poor positioning had also helped Gotze with the finish. Germany were in raptures.
There was only 7 minutes to play. Bastien Schweinsteiger, after a trojan performance, rallied his troops. They had the lead now and just needed to defend. Lionel Messi, after disappearing entirely for almost all of extra time, won a free kick in a good position in the 120th minute. The last chance for Argentina. Everyone, bar Romero, was sent up. Messi ballooned the free kick over the bar, shooting when a cross may have provided more a of a chance. He turned away disgusted. The final whistle pierced the air. Germany were champions again, the first Europeans to triumph in South America. Schweinsteiger was overwhelmed. Klose was euphoric. Low held his hands aloft. What a tournament it had been for Die Nationalmannschaft. They were deserved winners.