When a goal-laden group stage sparked 'Best World Cup Ever' chatter, the common rebuttal held that this was a tournament high on goalmouth action but lacking a truly great team.
In a couple of weeks, the script has flipped.
Only one match in the knockout stage produced more than three goals (no prizes for guessing which), but we saw the crowning of a wonderful German side that bears comparison with any in the competition’s history.
What we do know is that Germany were the best team at this World Cup, and they exhibited all the qualities required of great champions – skill, discipline, unity and determination.
And while the narrative for the final pitted an exceptional individual in Lionel Messi against an exceptional team, one should not lose sight of the fact that Germany were packed with wonderful players.
Just because you lack a stand-out player, it doesn’t mean you lack outstanding players.
Unlike Argentina and Brazil, Germany had the depth not to rely on individuals.
Brazil lost Neymar and suffered the most shocking collapse in World Cup history.
Argentina, too, suffered from Sergio Aguero’s lack of fitness, especially with Gonzalo Higuain misfiring.
Germany were not immune to such misfortune. In their final pre-tournament friendly Marco Reus - widely considered the team’s most important attacker, suffered an ankle injury that ruled him out of the tournament.
They suffered an outbreak of flu in the squad after travelling from scorching Recife to chilly Porto Alegre and back up to Rio de Janeiro.
In Sunday’s warm-up Sami Khedira – so influential in midfield - picked up a knock to keep him out of the final. His replacement, Christoph Kramer, lasted 32 minutes before he went off injured.
Where other teams would have let circumstances throw them, Germany rolled with the punches and pressed on regardless. None of their injured players were missed.
Lesser men would have sulked and pouted. Goetze waited for his chance and scored a brilliant World Cup-winning goal.
After the match he held up a shirt in tribute to Reus.
That seems like a good time to pay tribute to absent friends – unlike Brazil, whose outrageously mawkish reaction to Neymar’s injury surely sowed the seed of their demise.
The apparent interchangeability of players and squad unity leads us to believe they are homogenous entities that just roll off a production line, programmed to win.
This German relentlessness is what leads them to be portrayed as unfeeling teutonic machines crushing everyone and everything in their way.
It is obviously an unfair stereotype, and not even one that has its roots in fact.
The ability to stay united, to overcome setbacks, to suppress your ego and give everything for the team no matter what, takes extraordinary human qualities.
A successful World Cup squad requires enormous empathy and emotional intelligence – the like of which England have sorely lacked in recent times.
Sure, you can laugh at Jogi Loew and Hansi Flick’s matching outfits – but their sartorial unity reflects a setup in which everyone pulls in the same direction.
It is no accident that Loew hugged his players’ wives and girlfriends. This is a coach who seems genuinely to care about his their happiness and wellbeing.
Germany like to win World Cups the hard way. Their first, in 1954, saw them defeat a supposedly invincible Hungarian side, and 20 years later they crushed the dreams of an equally vaunted Dutch side.
In 1990 they beat the reigning European (Holland) and World champions (Argentina) in Italy.
This time their path to glory went through the Ballon d’Or (Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo), their former coach and playing legend (USA’s Juergen Klinsmann), a dangerous dark horse (France), the hosts and pre-tournament favourites (Brazil) and a team sporting both the world’s best player and the advantage of playing across the border from home (Argentina).
Germany got the better of all of them. They didn’t need penalties – though they would have won them anyway – and they charmed the host nation despite inflicting the mother of all beatings in the semi-finals.
A World Cup that cost billions to organise and has benefited so few in Brazil can hardly claim to be the home of natural justice.
At least, on the football pitch, we can say with confidence that the right team won Brazil 2014.
- Alex Chick
- Sports & Recreation
- Sami Khedira