Götze strikes as Germany win fourth World Cup in Rio
Sublime extra-time winner sees Joachim Löw’s side triumph over Argentina
It came later, much later, than the one that decided the final they fought out in Rome’s Olympic stadium 24 years ago, but the manner of the Mario Götze extra time winner that delivered Germany’s fourth world title seemed every bit as fitting.
If Andreas Brehme’s penalty had brought a controversial end to an ugly game back then, the 22 year-old’s sweeping finish here decided a game in which both side aspired to something a good deal higher.
Argentina deserve much credit for the way they played but their opponents were worthy winners. They were popular ones too with the Brazilian fans, supposedly neutrals, spared a Maracanazo II, one to go with their own infamous defeat at this fabled football stadium back in 1950.
The locals celebrated with more relief and perhaps a little less joy than their new German friends as the goal flew home and, seven minutes later, the final whistle sounded.
Everywhere else, it seemed, Argentines stood and stared into space in despair.
Their side had defended resolutely for so long through a good if not quite great game and Götze’s strike, in fact, brought to an end a run of 486 minutes without conceding for a team that was supposed to come here and score its way to victory.
Instead, they didn’t manage a single shot on target here and it was the Germans who went out and seized victory. For much of the match, the quality of their finishing fell well whort of what it had been in some previous games but Götze’s was sublime with the young star brilliantly controlling Andre Schürrle’s cross from the left with his chest before powering a volley past Sergio Romero on the turn.
Lionel Messi, so closely attended to throughout, simply couldn’t produce the individual brilliance required to save his team and fluffed his last chance from a free-kick 25 metres out before looking to the heavens in the sure knowledge his side was beaten and his own dream dead.
It was a remarkable end to a memorable game.
Joachim Löw, for whom the victory is a huge personal vindication, had suffered one setback before kick-off when Sami Khedira failed a fitness test on a calf strain, and another half an hour in, when his replacement Christoph Kramer, making his first ever competitive international start, was led away in a daze having somehow played on for a spell after being on the receiving end of a clattering from Ezequiel Garay.
Kramer had done quite well up until then but scarcely looked as though he knew where he was as he left the field. Toni Kroos, on the other hand, seemed to be struggling from the outset with the Bayern Munich midfielder, so ruthlessly effective against Brazil on Tuesday night, completely at sea over the early stages here.
Form at this World Cup would have had most observers betting on the German goalkeeper to come away on top but it was a surprise that the Argentine striker did not even manage to test his opponent, with the 26 year-old rushing his shot and pulling it badly wide.
It all seemed to make Kroos an unlikely candidate for a more defensive role but when Kramer was replaced by Andre Schürrle it was he who slotted in beside Bastian Schweinsteiger as the second pillar of Löw’s midfield.
The Germans stayed generally on top but their defensive frailties appeared to have returned and the Argentines were being much braver about targeting them on the break here than they had been against the Dutch.
At one end Thomas Müller was a persistent threat while Miroslav Klose went close to latching on to one of his team-mate’s curling crosses and Benedikt Höwedes pounded the post with a header when he had plenty of open goal to aim at. It was a sign of how surprisingly open things were that a little while after his glaring miss, Higuain had a goal rightly disallowed for offside.
In the midst of all this, Messi awaited his moment but it never quite came. The Barcelona striker roamed between midfield and attack, presumably unnerving those Germans he came closest to but on one of the rare occasions in the opening half when he really threatened to find his stride, he had a couple of players back-peddling anxiously before Bastian Schweinsteiger arrived to make a perfectly timed intervention and send the ball flying out of play.
It went a little better for the Argentine just after the break when Marcos Rojo played him into space but this time his shot across the face of the goal ran fractionally the wrong side of the right-hand post and the South Americans’ wait to actually test Neuer continued.
The Germans, on the other hand, forced Romero into action a few times but the chances didn’t come easy. In front of the goalkeeper they were met by some determined resistance with Martin Demichelis good, Garay better and Pablo Zabaleta at times outstanding.
In fact, they did well in midfield too with Schweinsteiger eclipsing Mascherano in terms of the influence he exerted on things but the Germans far from having things entirely their own way.
Without the ball they looked a little tired at times with only Schürrle and Müller pressing in the way that would have been expected. There was a more familiar urgency about them in possession as they sought to up the pace at times of their already quick passing game when pushing into the last third of the pitch. Inevitably, though, the speed at which they were trying to do things took its toll with their control and finishing both letting them down at critical moments through the second half and extra time.
Some of the tackling was a little off the mark too with Höwedes, in particular, prompting a fair bit of Argentine anger with a wild challenge on Zabaleta and Neuer leaving Higuain completely outraged midway through the second half when he came to the edge of his box to punch the ball clear of the striker and followed through with a knee that hit the Napoli striker firm in the side of the face.
The Italian referee seemed to take it all in his stride and even Higuain seemed to survive the encounter well enough once he had vented, then rolled about a bit, but he eventually made way for Rodrigo Palacio, whose own finishing was no better when it was tested in extra-time, the Inter striker badly miscuing an attempt to lift the ball over the goalkeeper.
By then it had tightened up a bit with nerves clearly having crept in and, the last gasp free aside, it was to be Argentina’s last real chance. They fought bravely and went close in a way that a few weeks ago would have seemed a little unthinkable but ultimately came up just a little short.
These Germans know all about doing that but their failures are a thing of the past. They are world champions again.
Germany: Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Benedikt Höwedes; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Christoph Kramer (Schürrle 31’), Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos, Mesut Özil; Miroslav Klose (Götze 88’)
Yellow cards: Schweinsteiger, Höwedes
Argentina: Sergio Romero; Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis, Ezequiel Garay, Marcos Rojo; Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia, Enzo Perez (Gago 86’), Lionel Messi; Ezequiel Lavezzi (Agüero 46’), Gonzalo Higuain (Palacio 77’)
Yellow cards: Mascherano, Aguero
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)