The world at their feet

The world at their feet
Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer lifts the Golden Glove as he celebrates with teammates being named as the best goalkeeper at the end of the 2014 World Cup final between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

The World Cup final was 15 minutes away from heading towards a penalty shoot-out. There, on the pitch of Rio de Janeiro's iconic Estadio do Maracana, where so many epic battles had been won by greatness, Joachim Loew was looking for that something special.

Germany and Argentina were still locked at 0-0 after a bruising 105-minute battle. He looked around, and in Mario Goetze saw not only his team's freshest pair of legs, but also something special.

So he took the player aside as the teams trooped back onto the pitch and whispered: "Show the world that you are better than (Lionel) Messi and that you can decide the World Cup."

It was a tall task for a 22-year-old World Cup rookie to steal the headlines in a final against an Argentina team led by four-time world player of the year Messi.

Yet when Andre Schuerrle beat an otherwise excellent Javier Mascherano and floated a cross into the Argentina penalty area, his chance was there.

Jumping to cushion the ball ever so delicately with his chest, his next move was in direct contrast to his first. Taking two steps to set himself up, he let fly with a ferocious left-footed volley to send the ball into the net - and 80 million Germans into ecstasy half the world away.

On the Maracana pitch, his team-mates mobbed him as Mascherano sat on the ground, deflated, at the realisation that the dream was over.

There were still seven minutes to play, but with tired legs and exhausted minds after their second consecutive extra-time match, the Cup was as good as gone.

A last-minute Messi free kick, which went horribly wrong, merely confirmed the sentiments that Goetze's wonderful strike had been the match-winner.

"It's an unbelievable feeling, I don't know how to describe it," said the man of the match.

"I just took the shot and didn't know what was happening. For us, the dream has become reality. I'm very proud of the team and extremely happy about everything that has happened here in Brazil.

"Every player in our team deserves praise and we're very proud to have won this trophy."

It was perhaps fitting that the German win was carved out by two players born after the reunification of the country in 1990. It emphasised the point that to win the World Cup, you need a great team and, in Brazil, no one else came close to Die Mannschaft.

They were the best passers of the ball, played the best flowing team football and had the greatest depth. Whether it was Goetze or Miroslav Klose in the starting line-up, whether it was a False Nine system or a more conventional line-up with a recognised striker, the Germans got the job done.

They also scored the most goals. That eight German players contributed to their 18-goal tally, second only to the Netherlands with nine scorers, was a telling statistic.

The over-reliance on one man has been one of Brazil 2014's underlying themes. Neymar for Brazil, Messi for Argentina and to a certain extent Arjen Robben for the Netherlands, all, ironically, contributed to their teams' downfall. Their individual brilliance and influence they had on their teams turned out to be a weak link as defences focused on them.

Germany, on the other hand, did not have just one star. They had a star team. Six players, the most in the tournament, had two goals or more. Their top scorer Thomas Mueller scored just once in the four knockout matches, yet it did little to affect the team, with Goetze, Schuerrle, Klose, Toni Kroos and even defender Mats Hummels chipping in.

"We've always played good football and I believe that over this tournament, over seven matches, we've shown the best performances of any of the teams here in Brazil," said Loew.

"The boys have also developed a team spirit which is unbelievable. They have fantastic technical capacity and they also have the willpower that's necessary to do what is necessary."

Sunday's win was also the first time that a European team tasted victory on Latin American soil, after Uruguay 1930, Brazil 1950, Chile 1962, Mexico 1970, Argentina 1978 and Mexico 1986.

Many believed that European teams could not perform on this continent. But with teams now equipped to set up elaborate in-tournament bases, as Germany did with Campo Bahia in Brazil's north-east, acclimatising to different weather conditions and environments is no longer an issue.

Favourable conditions were also something Argentina enjoyed in Brazil. All throughout their campaign, despite being bitter football rivals of the hosts, Messi and company enjoyed wonderful support from their own fans who made the trek north. For Sunday's final, it was estimated that over 100,000 Argentinians were in Brazil, expecting to rub salt into the wounds of their arch-rivals, who could finish only fourth.

But after an encouraging start highlighted by Gonzalo Higuain's glorious miss after a Kroos mistake put him clean through on goal and Messi dragging his second-half shot wide, La Albiceleste fizzled under the Maracana lights.

Messi, who had started so brightly with his teasing runs in the opening exchanges, seemed to run out of steam after the first half. As captain and heir apparent to the throne of great players like Pele and Maradona who have won the World Cup, much was expected of him. But membership to this elite club will have to wait.

On this Sunday, it was Goetze's time to shine. The image of the 22-year-old, winner's medal around his neck, staring into the Maracana sky, is a beautiful image to savour.

An even better one is that of him, body suspended in the air, executing that winning shot. Brazil 2014 deserved better than to end in a shoot-out.

A goal of pure brilliance was a fitting way to end one of the best World Cups in recent memory.

 

Reaping fruits if 10 years' labour

Sunday’s triumph, Germany’s fourth World Cup win but their first in 24 years, was the culmination of a project that started a decade ago.

After a poor Euro 2000 campaign, German football association officials sat down with the clubs to devise a system which would put the emphasis on developing a generation of young, technically and tactically talented players.

Clubs invested in academies and centres of excellence.

And Sunday’s result was the fruit of that collective labour.

The starting XI against Argentina featured six of the “boys” who played in a 4-0 hammering of England in the 2009 Euro Under-21 final in Sweden. “We started this project 10 years ago and what has happened today is the result of many years’ work, starting with Juergen Klinsmann,” said coach Joachim Loew, who in 2004 as assistant to Klinsmann, sought to introduce a more passing, attacking style to Germany’s play.

“We’ve made constant progress, we believed in the project, we worked a lot and, if any group deserves it, it’s this team.”

marclim@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 15, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

was first published on July 15, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

 

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