The game developed slowly, with Argentina's midfielders flowing quickly from attack into a tightly-packed defense as needed. Germany had plenty of space to move throughout the midfield as a result, but had difficulty mounting sustained attack. The first real chance coming in the fourteenth minute when Philipp Lahm lofted a pass in for Miroslav Klose. Marcos Rojo managed to outjump Klose and head the threat to safety. Shortly thereafter, Christoph Kramer -- inserted into the starting eleven in place of the ailing Sami Khedira -- went down after a head-to-head collision, once again bringing discussion of FIFA's concussion protocols to the fore. As expected, Kramer returned to the contest far earlier than is sensible. I generally avoid making suggestions to change the laws of the game, but this is one situation where the game's substitution rules need to be relaxed. A team can't afford to be shorthanded for the five-plus minutes a proper concussion evaluation takes.
Right after that, Gonzalo Higuain took possession atop the penalty area after a defensive lapse on the part of Toni Kroos, but despite getting a one-on-one chance against Manuel Neuer, Higuain fired a good two feet wide of the post. He had another brilliant chance ten minutes later, but although he hit the back of the net, he was a good five feet offside. And on that very play, Kramer collapsed. He had to be helped off the field, and André Schürrle entered the fray.
Lionel Messi's first stamp on the affair came around the 35-minute mark when he attempted to penetrate the penalty area and fired a bullet; the shot was deflected and resulted in a corner. That was fruitless, and Germany nearly turned the tide on the counter, but were also stymied. A few minutes later, Messi again snuck into the German defense and drew Neuer out of goal. But a brilliant sliding clearance by Jérôme Boateng saved Germany from disaster.
Shortly before half, Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil fed Kroos for a blistering shot, saved by Sergio Romero; a minute later Lahm lofted a cross which was just too long for Klose to get to; he had a perfect chance to score. And then, on a second consecutive corner, Kroos was perfect; an unmarked Benedikt Höwedes headed into the post. The rebound hit Müller in the hip, and Romero saved right on the goal line -- but the flag had gone up in any event. And that ended an exciting, yet fruitless, first half.
Sergio Aguero came on for Argentina at the half, signaling their intent. Messi again came close just two minutes in. Taking a pass atop the area, he danced in a few steps and fired a shot toward the right corner. Neuer was beaten, but the shot skittered just wide. A little later, we had another headshot. Neuer charged out to challenge a ball in the air with Higuain. Neuer cleanly punched the ball clear, but slammed into Higuain's head with his hip. On the return, Lahm crossed to Klose, who won the header and forced Romero into another save; the Germans were beginning to take control of the aerial battle.
Mid-half, it seemed that Argentinian emotions were about to get the better of them, racking up a pair of yellows in the space of a minute and visibly expressing frustration with virtually every camera close-up. With just over fifteen to play, Messi re-appeared after a long silence, but again curled a shot well wide.
With just ten minutes to go, Özil delivered a very clever backward cross which at first appeared to be a misfire but came straight to the foot of the oncoming Kroos, who fired just wide. As regulation wound down, Mario Götze came on to replace Miroslav Klose, who exited to warm applause from the largely pro-Argentinian crowd. After three minutes of stoppage time, we got the best present ever: 30 more minutes.
Germany almost took the lead from the opening kick. A chaotic game of pinball in front of the Argentine net almost resulted in Schürrle scoring, but Romero got his hands up and batted the effort to safety. Back the other way, Aguero slipped free and ripped a strike across the goal face, but with no help there to finish. Later, Rodrigo Palacio slipped in and popped the ball over Neuer's head, but it had too much mustard on it, bouncing harmlessly over the goal line.
The next 20 minutes of extra time passed in excruciating fashion, with Argentina seeming to park the bus and Germany not getting much traction. But with just seven minutes remaining, Schürrle streaked free down the left side and crossed, and Götze became a German national hero by catching the cross with his chest and volleying the drop into the far corner. The celebration began everywhere except on the pitch itself.
The roles then reversed. Germany fell into defensive posture, desperately hoping to cling to that lead, while Argentina went fully on the attack. Bastian Schweinsteiger seemed to spend most of the final eight minutes laying on the grass in some level of disrepair or another, and not one of those times seemed to be artistry. Messi found the top of the net with three minutes left, but that counted for nothing. In the final minute, Messi won a free kick from 25 yards out; he skied it well over the goal, and shortly thereafter the Germans had claimed their fourth championship, and became the first European side to win the competition in the Western Hemisphere.
Before the game, much was made of how this game would define Lionel Messi. That was a sentiment worthy of mockery before, but one thing cannot be escaped tonight: Messi did not excel in this match. He was invisible for long stretches, and when he had opportunities he squandered them. In that light, perhaps that debate may have merit. What isn't debatable is that Messi did his legacy no favors on this evening at the Maracanã.
It was, in the end, the fitting ending for this World Cup. The tournament had a little bit of everything, but what it had more of than anything else once the knockout rounds arrived was extra time; eight of the sixteen contests which couldn't end in a draw went 120 minutes. (A ninth was decided in stoppage time, on a penalty kick.) Indeed, three teams in this tournament did not lose a game in open play at all; besides Germany, the Dutch and Costa Ricans also achieved the feat, only losing on penalty kicks.
The Golden Glove award for the best goalkeeper of the tournament went to Neuer, ahead of Romero and Costa Rica's Keylor Navas. (Tim Howard was not even a finalist.) The Golden Ball, for the tournament's best player, went to Messi; the other nine players under consideration were Germans Lahm, Kroos, Müller, and Mats Hummels, Argentinians Javier Mascherano and Ángel di María, Brazil's Neymar, Arjen Robben of the Netherlands, and Colombia's James Rodriguez. Rodriguez was the winner of the Golden Boot award after leading all goal scorers with six. The Hyundai Young Player Award, restricted to players under the age of 22, went to France's Paul Pogba, beating out his teammate Raphaël Varane and Dutchman Memphis Depay. Switzerland and Nigeria, each of whom only amassed three yellow cards and no reds, share the FIFA Fair Play Trophy; Bosnia and Spain also matched that record, but did not qualify for the knockout rounds and were thus ineligible.
And so ends the world's premier single-sport competition for another four years. There is, perhaps, no better way to visualize the sun setting on the tournament than with, well, a sunset.
What a shot. pic.twitter.com/iJ2bkWx6kG— ESPN (@espn) July 13, 2014
We hope you've enjoyed our coverage of the World Cup, another in our series of efforts to reach beyond the borders of Manhattan and share our thoughts on bigger things. We'll have some post-tournament observations in the coming days, not the least of which will be a piece from Derek Smith about how this tournament stripped him of his disdain for soccer and turned him into a fan. After that... it's back to the business of K-State football, which is just around the corner.