The 2014 World Cup final was not a classic but it would be hard to argue that the Germans were not deserving winners. They were the best collective unit, achieved the outstanding result in the World Cup demolishing the hosts, Brazil, 7-1 in the semifinals and were by far the most consistent team in the tournament. Most importantly though was even when things didn’t quite click for Germany in the final they didn’t panic and crucially took their chance when it was presented.
Argentina did what they could and made Germany fight right to the end though the Albiceleste will rue their generosity when they had gilt-edged opportunities to score. The fact that they didn’t force a proper save out of Manuel Neuer will gnaw at them. Their key forward players didn’t fire and Ángel di María’s absence robbed the Argentines of one of their few in-form attacking figures.
Interestingly, this was the seventh time the Germans and Argentineans have met in World Cup history and the third occasion they’ve contested the final.
Patience versus Obduracy:
The contrasting approaches of the Germans and the Argentineans made for a fascinating match as Alejandro Sabella’s side effectively challenged Germany to break them down. Playing a 4-4-2 Argentina was compact and disciplined soaking up the pressure and making a number of dangerous raids down the other end.
Mats Hummels’ pace was examined early on as Argentina looked to attack the German backline with direct, forceful runs. Indeed for all the possession the Germans had Argentina created a number of dangerous opportunities, though they didn’t test Manuel Neuer. The high line Germany employed invited Argentina to exploit the gaps behind which the Albiceleste was happy to attack.
Joachim Löw’s side was rocked by the late withdrawal of Sami Khedira and then later on in the game when his replacement the unfortunate Christoph Kramer was taken off in the 30th minute. The Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder’s head crashed off Ezequiel Garay’s shoulder as the latter attempted a shoulder charge. The German medical crew should have called for a substitution straight away but Kramer was left on for a further 10 minutes before he departed the pitch looking dazed and confused.
The disruption was naturally unwanted but Joachim Löw avoided shifting Philipp Lahm back into the center opting instead to bring on André Schürrle on and asking Mesut Özil to play in more central areas.
Despite enjoying a lot of possession the loss of Khedira seemed to affect the rhythm of the German midfield but they still held strong as the Argentines grew in confidence as the game wore on.
Höwedes benefits from refereeing leniency:
This World Cup, for better or worse, has been marked by the lack of yellow and red cards. The instruction to all referees was to keep the cards in their pockets and only produce them as a last resort. Whilst nobody wants to see a card happy referee this World Cup saw games which threatened to boil over as the officials erred on the side of leniency with Brazil’s game against Colombia being a prime example.
Benedikt Höwedes can count himself extremely lucky to have remained on the pitch after his challenge on Pablo Zabaleta. It was high, the studs were showing and he caught the Manchester City fullback pretty hard. One feels that if there wasn’t a demand for leniency Höwedes could have easily seen red and the German fullback should have made the most of his reprieve when he headed an uncontested effort from a Toni Kroos corner against the post at the end of the first half.
The dynamic of the game could have easily changed had the referee, Nicola Rizzoli, chosen to be more strict.
Mascherano central to Sabella’s plan:
The talk surrounding the Argentina camp naturally centered on Lionel Messi and whether he could inspire the Albiceleste to a third World Cup triumph. Alejandro Sabella though chose to rely on the strengths of Javier Mascherano to repel the threat of the Germans. Mascherano didn’t disappoint as he marshaled his midfield, read the game well and exuded defiance. Indeed as the tournament has progressed Mascherano has grown in importance.
In a certain way he alleviated the burden off Lionel Messi as Alejandro Sabella opted to make the Albiceleste difficult to beat. The initial focus was on Argentina to defend and the pressure was on the back four and Mascherano to stop the Germans rather than make Messi the sole focal point of the Argentinean game plan.
Messi looked tired and failed to tuck away chances that he would have normally finished had he been fresh. His miss in the 47th minute was his clearest opportunity and one he would have expected to put away. Messi’s free kick in the last minute of extra time summed up his game, unspectacular.
Messi has lit up the competition with moments of magic and he did win Golden Ball but the big prize eluded the Barcelona star. Argentina’s dependence on him proved too much but Messi could have expected more from his fellow forwards.
Argentina spurn golden opportunities:
Who would be Gonzalo Higuaín and Rodrigo Palacio? Both strikers wasted golden opportunities to put Argentina ahead.
Higuaín was especially guilty failing to capitalize on Toni Kroos’ gift in the 20th minute when he really should have done a lot better. The Napoli striker did have the ball in the back of the net in the 30th minute but his effort was chalked out correctly for offside. Higuaín will be replaying those moments in his head. Could he have timed his run better? How could he have struck his shot better? He will be having nightmares.
Rodrigo Palacio will also be looking back on his chance in the 7th minute of extra time when he latched on to Marcos Rojo’s cross field pass. The striker seemed to be in two minds as the imposing figure of Manuel Neuer steamed out to block his shot. Palacio’s harmless lob betrayed an effort that completely lacked any form of conviction.
If anything Ángel di María’s importance grew in his absence as he was probably the only other Argentine attacker to have made a lasting impression on this World Cup. They certainly missed his cut and thrust.
The dawn of a new era?
When Mario Götze gloriously swept home Germany’s winner he ensured that Die Mannschaft won their first World Cup as a unified nation whilst becoming the first substitute to score a World Cup winning goal. He also sealed Germany’s place in history when they became the first European team to win a World Cup in the Americas.
For all Brazil fans, Götze’s goal prevented the Argentineans from lifting the World Cup on Brazilian soil.
Going into the final Argentina had not been behind once in the tournament and had a proud record of not conceding a goal in extra time. If any team was going to break those records it would be the Germans. They are just that ruthless.
Manuel Neuer picked up the Golden Glove, Philipp Lahm was fantastic policing the right flank and intelligently distributing the ball, Bastian Schweinsteiger went through the wringer for his country, Schürrle once again made a telling contribution and Mario Götze joined the likes of Gerd Müller, Andy Brehme and Helmut Rahn in scoring a World Cup winning goal for Germany.
Moreover it’s validation for Joachim Löw who has transformed the German side and turned them into a skillful and powerful unit. He was classy enough to acknowledge Jürgen Klinsmann’s role in this transformation but Löw’s vision has led Germany to this triumph and the scary thing is that this could just be the start. The squad is still relatively young with a good mix of experience and now that they’ve finally tasted glory they will want more.
Crucially, the new World Champions know that they’re good enough to win more trophies.