The ending was exactly as it should have been. After Germany coach Jogi Loew told the incoming Mario Goetze to “show to the world that you’re better than (Lionel) Messi”, the Bayern Munich man produced a moment bursting with the sort of quality that always seemed needed to break open such an intense, exacting encounter.
There were further reasons why Goetze’s decisive contribution was so fitting. That he represents the Deutscher Fussball-Bund’s (DfB) success in reinvigorating their player production line in the last decade-in-a-bit will not escape notice, but more pervasive at the moment of the goal was the sense in which it summed up Germany’s tournament. Whatever the situation and however determined the opposition – and it was difficult to imagine more obdurate and committed adversaries than Argentina – they always seemed to have one extra card up their sleeve.
Let’s not overlook the fact that even though the best team won this tournament, and dominated on the night, they could easily have lost this final. Argentina spurned a handful of gilt-edged chances, via Gonzalo Higuain and his eventual replacement Rodrigo Palacio, as well as Messi, which arrived at their feet in exactly the way we might have expected them to. Alejandro Sabella’s side were perfectly set up to take advantage of counter-attack opportunities provided by Germany’s trademark over-eagerness. To say that Loew and company have finally learned how to close out the business end of a tournament does overlook these close shaves.
The man who might have put the block on this weakness was absent by this point, in spirit if not in body. When Higuain missed the final’s first golden chance, blazing well wide from Toni Kroos’ errant back-header, Christoph Kramer was still on the field, but probably shouldn’t have been. The Borussia Moenchengladbach midfielder, already drafted into the line-up late on after Sami Khedira’s calf injury in the warm-up, had been knocked half way into next season when colliding with Ezequiel Garay’s shoulder. Inexplicably, he was left to wander around the field for a further 15 minutes before being replaced by Andre Schuerrle.
Though the excellent Schuerrle again made his presence felt, Kramer’s exit was a blow to Loew and the team, as well as the player himself. The late loss of Khedira had been a horrible shock – he had dominated that astonishing semi-final in tandem with Kroos, and was shaping up as a candidate for player of the tournament. Yet if we’re talking about ironing out Germany’s glitches, the 23-year-old Kramer’s inclusion might have been a handy twist of fate.
Khedira is an unusual type of defensive midfielder, one notable for his physical prowess but not really for his tackling. He is an athlete, yet an accomplished passer. In fact, he is exactly the sort of holder that could convince Arsene Wenger that it is a palatable facet of his line-up. Food for thought, given Khedira’s current contractual situation with Real Madrid and Arsenal’s reported interest.
That’s the other thing, of course; Khedira is not the most diligent of holders. If Germany were going to get burned in this final, it was going to be at the altar of their own ambition. Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger are never going to be a pair to sit passively and patiently in front of a defence. They want to get involved and this, pre-final, left the potential of space to be exploited by Messi, and even the hard-running Enzo Perez.
The more circumspect Kramer, despite his inexperience at this level, suggested the potential of greater security, as a no-frills protection for two centre-backs who also both like to play. That glimpse of a stress-free night was swiftly whipped away after that collision with the sturdy Garay yet once again, the coach found the answer.
Loew himself has grown, against the backdrop of a rising tide of opinion at home saying (preposterously) that anything less than victory in Brazil would have been total failure. Germany’s run to the final wasn’t without its stumbles – the games against Ghana and Algeria suggested potentially fatal fallibilities – but they learned from them.
The coach managed it well, with the impact of his substitutes a testament to him keeping his whole squad sharp. Miroslav Klose’s important equaliser against Ghana, with his first touch, started it off, and Schuerrle’s contributions from the bench against Algeria and Brazil reinforced the point. Khedira, too, made a significant impact after coming on against the Fennecs.
Germany’s greatest point of evolution during the tournament was further back though. Manuel Neuer covered for those defensive concerns against Algeria with that extraordinary sweeper-keeper performance, but the lesson was learned from there. The gamble of returning to Philipp Lahm to right-back (and thus potentially unbalancing the midfield) was a successful one, not only in restoring arguably the world’s best full-back to his rightful place, but in finding the right centre-back combination of Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng.
Even if the admirable Schweinsteiger was the popular choice as man of the match at the Maracana – and don’t we all love a bit of blood and a few bruises to validate the effort demanded in international football? – his Bayern colleague Boateng was no less worthy a candidate. Frequently undercut as supposedly not good enough for the Bundesliga champions, the former Manchester City defender had a sensational tournament, from shutting out Cristiano Ronaldo as a right-back in the tournament’s opener onwards. His speedy interception to snuff out one Messi counter-surge through the middle, after Schuerrle’s shot was saved at the start of extra-time, was pivotal.
Boateng was of course one of seven Bayern players in Germany’s winning group – though Kroos confirmed his impending move to Real Madrid minutes after the final whistle. If anything, Bayern are even more the beating heart of this Germany than Barca were of Spain’s champions four years ago. Their credo is not just one of durability, excellence and style, but a refusal to be cowed by disappointment. Just like Bayern came back from the 2012 Champions League final loss, Germany have put recent near-misses behind them.
In this sense, it almost doesn’t matter if they build a dynasty from here. Their ability to find a way to win has already made them great.
Andy Brassell - @AndyBrassell
- Sports & Recreation
- Bayern Munich
- Sami Khedira
- Mario Goetze
- Christoph Kramer
- Gonzalo Higuain