For the second World Cup final in succession, a late extra-time goal decided the new champions. For Spain and Andres Iniesta in 2010, read Germany and Mario Götze in 2014. A host of spurned chances by both Germany and Argentina meant the teams remained locked at 0-0 heading into the final seven minutes of an added 30 and with penalties looking likely to be required for the second time in the last three finals. But Götze, having come off the bench two minutes form the end of normal time, finally showed the kind of clinical finishing that had been so sorely lacking and pounced to volley past Sergio Romero to take Germany level with Italy and just one behind Brazil with four World Cup wins.
Argentina’s wait for number three agonizingly goes on, with Germany again having proved their nemesis. It was the third World Cup in a row in which their hopes have been ended by Germany and a repeat score line of both sides’ last World Cup final, 24 years ago. The stage had been set for Lionel Messi to make this his moment and replicate his compatriot, to whom he is forever compared, Diego Maradona, in leading Argentina to the trophy with a win over Germany. Two minutes into the second half his chance arrived. The four-time World Player of the Year ran through on the German goal and was poised to score as he has done so often for Barcelona. Instead he missed the target and the opportunity to swing the debate about the greatest Argentinean player ever and greatest player, period, of all time in his favor. His award for best player of the tournament was the scantest of consolations.
Rather than the crowning moment for Messi, it proved to be the time that Germany reaped the ultimate benefit for the revolution in the country’s football culture and player production undertaken at the turn of the millennium. And, in that way, Götze was the fitting hero. The 22-year-old, slight and with flair and skill in abundance, is just the sort of player who made Germany fall in love with its national team again. Set up by a pinpoint cross from 23-year-old fellow substitute Andre Schürrle, Götze showed that talent and incredible composure to give this German generation and its leader Joachim Löw a golden piece of deserved silverware.
But After a stunning 7-1 semifinal win over hosts Brazil, this was unsurprisingly a much tougher test for Germany. Their problems started in the warm up when key midfielder Sami Khedira, so impressive last time out, was gallingly forced to miss the biggest match of his life with a calf injury. Christoph Kramer, a 23-year-old winning just his fifth cap, was the man to benefit, but had to be replaced himself a little more than 30 minutes in after suffering a nasty head injury, which, having initially having been allowed to carry on, again raises the debate about the lack of adequate precautions.
Germany dominated possession, but it was a situation with which Argentina was comfortable as they looked to exploit their opponent’s high defensive line on the break. Following a scoreless semifinal with the Netherlands, Alejandro Sabella’s side were given an early gift from which they should have garnered a lead to protect.
Gonzalo Higuaín was put through on goal by Toni Kroos’ errant header back to his goalkeeper, but the Argentina striker continued a disappointing World Cup by skewing his effort horribly wide. Higuaín’s frustration continued when putting the ball back in the net but being correctly flagged for offside. Still, Argentina’s offensive threat remained the greater, with Messi giving Mats Hummels a torrid time. Late in an engrossing opening period, Germany perked up in an attacking sense, and missed a glorious chance when defender Benedikt Höwedes somehow found the post rather than the net from six yards with a header from a corner.
The second half, which began with Messi’s missed moment, became increasingly physical and tetchy. While it didn’t approach the brutality of the 1990 final between these countries, there again could easily have been a red card and a penalty. Höwedes had already escaped with just a yellow for a studs-up high tackle on Pablo Zabaleta when Manuel Neuer brought back ugly memories of one of his predecessors in the Germany goal, Tony Schumacher’s vicious assault on Patrick Battiston, when charging out of his goal and landing a knee into the face of Higuain. Somehow Higuaín was punished when the decision should arguably have been a penalty and a red card.
Still at full numerical strength, Germany were starting to get on top. Höwedes showed he is far more comfortable in his own penalty area when failing to take control of the ball in the Argentina box. For the second time in the match, Toni Kroos’ usually clean striking again deserted him with a poor shot from the edge of the box.
For the third consecutive World Cup, the final went to extra time. And there was further clashing of players when half-time substitute Sergio Agüero escaped a second yellow for a hand into the face of the superb Bastian Schweinsteiger that drew blood from the inspirational midfielder. The added 30 minutes began with Germany again going close, with Götze setting up Schürrle, whose shot was straight at Romero. That duos moment was to come but not before one of Argentina’s substitutes was to miss a chance that he will surely never forget. Rodrigo Palacio, a man till now best known for his rat tail hair will bow forever be associated with a heavy touch with a clear sight of goal and a subsequent lob over Neuer but wide of the post. The greater strength in depth of Germany, epitomized minutes later by their winner -- created and finished by substitutes -- was ultimately key.
It was a final that easily could have gone Argentina’s way but Götze’s finish certainly didn’t mean that one of the best World Cups did not have deserving champions. Through the tournament Germany had found the balance between the new possession style and previous attacking dynamism, melding flair and imagination with traditional German physicality. And at the end, this new Germany generation showed they had the mental strength, once so synonymous with German teams, to keep their nerve and claim the biggest prize of all.