The end may have resembled the 2010 World Cup final, but everything else about this version was better. From the kickoff of the first World Cup match in Brazil to Philipp Lahm hoisting the trophy at the conclusion, soccer fans were treated to something special. This included the winning goal in the final between Germany and Argentina. Mario Gotze’s sublime chested-down, left-footed volley past Argentine keeper Sergio Romero in the 113th minute was a worthy World Cup-winning strike, even more so than Andres Iniesta’s 116th minute 2010 edition for Spain.
Gotze’s golden goal and Germany’s general dominance may have been a callback to that Spain-Netherlands final, but the difference in this one was Argentina’s many quality chances despite holding only 36% of the possession. Striker Gonzalo Higuain muffed a perfect chance, after a Toni Kroos mistake gift-wrapped him the ball alone in front of German keeper Manuel Neuer. Substitute Rodrigo Palacios (who came on, rat-tail a-swinging, for Higuain) wished he could have another crack at his wonderful late chance to bury the go-ahead goal. It was not to be – and neither was the great Lionel Messi‘s few chances.
But, oh my goodness, what a chance he had in the 47th minute to insert a goal that would play on his highlight reel forever. A through ball was played to his feet on the left side and he bared down on Neuer. This was a goal we have seen Messi score dozens of times for Barcelona: ball on his majestic left foot, just the keeper to beat. Before he even took the shot, I knew it was going inside the right post. It went wide. Maybe it was Neuer’s intimidating presence or maybe he just mishit, but there would be no mythmaking goal for Messi tonight. It would remain his clearest chance to make his mark for the rest of the match.
In fact, most of the game had brilliant setup play that was marred by incompetent finishing. Even Germany looked frustrated by their inability to create chances as quality as Argentina were getting. Don’t get me wrong, Germany were the better side. It’s just that Argentina proved hard to break down yet again. Just like Belgium and Holland before them, Germany were stymied by a disciplined, smart defense that refused to make mistakes. Javier Mascherano, Pablo Zabaleta, and the rest worked tirelessly to deny the German attack.
Eventually it was just too much, though. After Gotze entered the picture in the 88th minute for legend Miroslav Klose, things started to change. He fed a wonderful pass to Schurrle right in the middle of Argentina’s box that forced a save. Minutes later Schurrle would return the favor by bombing down the left side and lofting a perfect cross to Gotze, who finished with the aforementioned skillful winner inside the right post.
In many ways this was the perfect cap to an intensely team-oriented Germany World Cup 2014 campaign. Neither Gotze nor Schurrle started this match, but they were the ones to create the game-winner. Gotze, in particular, had previously had a disappointing Cup before he scored the goal that would buy him a free Hefeweizen in Germany for the rest of his life.
That’s the thing about the Germans. We knew they had class, depth, and talent, but they didn’t really flaunt it until the end of this tournament. Their scorched-earth 7-1 annihilation of Brazil featured a team that looked both flawlessly put together and on an absolute mission. It was a peek at what their talent looks like it should do on paper – and it was scary. Still, the game isn’t played on paper and Argentina somehow found themselves with multiple opportunities to grab a hold of this World Cup final. They couldn’t cash in, and a combination of solid defense from Hummels and Boateng, spectacular midfield control by Schweinsteiger, and Ozil and Muller’s constant movement and pressure led to Gotze’s winner.
No matter your rooting interest in this final, you have to admit the better team won. And yet, the amazing thing is that Argentina had multiple chances to steal the title, which is what made this such a riveting end to a fantastic tournament, and also what makes this sport so patently great. If Messi scores just after halftime, we may be having a completely different conversation. Even more amazing is that just a single goal was scored in the midst of a myriad of chances, a strange ending to a tournament chock-full of goals and outrageous moments. However, we finished with the trophy in the hands of the best – and most deserving – team. Somehow this World Cup simultaneously gave us mostly fair results and lived up to its massive hype. Good luck Russia 2018.