Sunday 21 December 2014

German momentum reaches final peak

Loew’s pretenders come of age as years of development produce glorious results

Published 14/07/2014 | 02:30

Lionel Messi walks among the celebrating Germany players at the final whistle of the World Cup final at the Maracana. Photo: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Lionel Messi walks among the celebrating Germany players at the final whistle of the World Cup final at the Maracana. Photo: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

The tournament got the winner it deserved. Brazil 2014 will largely be remembered for the positive football, and glory fittingly belongs to the contender that scored more goals than the rest.

Germany are kings of the world because they had the best squad at these finals or, more pertinently, a greater quantity of players with the ability to capitalise on promising situations and stick the ball in the net.

With Lionel Messi off colour, Argentina were bereft of inspiration and Gonzalo Higuain and Rodrigo Palacio fluffed their lines when gifts were presented in their direction.

Germany's magic moment was dispatched by Mario Goetze, one of the eight Die Mannschaft squad members that registered on the scoresheet in this adventure. Only four Argentines got on the board.

Goetze is not a striker by trade, but then this German generation aren't bogged down by labels. That's why they are worthy champions.

In years to come, they will be cited as the classic example of a team growing into competition. Their humbling of Portugal on the opening day was tainted by Pepe's implosion and, when Ghana cut them apart at will in a chaotic 2-2 draw in Fortaleza, they didn't look like Spain's successors.

Indeed, when an organised Algeria unit found gaps everywhere in a frantic opening spell in Porto Alegre, there was a brief period where it seemed possible that Joachim Loew and co would be home before the quarter-finals.

STRUCTURE

Simple adjustments to the structure – the restoration of Philipp Lahm to right-full and the pairing of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira – succeeded in building momentum in the relatively comfortable triumph over France and then the dismantling of the hosts that will probably be referenced in the history books before the finer points of this Maracana success.

But the last-minute loss of Khedira for the decider and the subsequent injury to his replacement, Christoph Kramer, presented further difficulty. In hindsight, they may take particular pleasure from the narrow triumph that followed considering they came here with a mission to shake off the perception they were big-game bottlers.

Remember, Loew's charges have tested the familiar cliches about German efficiency, falling limply at the penultimate hurdle of Euro 2012 and the last World Cup. They become the first European team to claim the crown in South America, but it's scaling their own barriers that will give the the most pleasure.

“Would you rather we played beautiful football but got knocked out?” raged Per Mertesacker after the Algerian escape, a match that ironically cost him his part in the run-in.

Without him, Germany managed to tick both boxes and secure their legacy.

The first half was absorbing, avoiding the curse of sterility that tends to envelop this showpiece. It helped that the atmosphere was anything but corporate. Argentina's presence succeeded in rallying the

Brazilian attendees behind the German cause.

When the blue and white masses cranked up their theme tune for the tournament, the catchy ditty which centres around claiming the trophy in Brazil's back yard, a cacophony of whistles sought to drown out the chorus.

This was a proper football atmosphere; the absence of the boredom-relieving Mexican waves illustrated that point perfectly. Granted, the game itself struggled to maintain the frenzied early pace which clearly took its toll.

This was about more than the effects of a gruelling tournament; this was a long campaign reaching its conclusion.

Certainly, the helter-skelter opening exchanges showcased the best and worst of the protagonists. Germany's ambition started proceedings on a positive note, yet their defensive vulnerabilities were also evident as they were caught cold when numbers were committed. When they're in a casual mood, the entertainment value soars.

Higuain's howler was born from Kroos’ complacency that was endemic in the ranks during the group phase. Messi's wastefulness after the interval arose from tardy concentration.

Argentina, meanwhile, demonstrated the hard edge that comes with fielding an experienced side.

Ezequiel Garay's cynical shoulder that should have immediately ended the participation of Kramer – he was somehow allowed stay on the pitch by the medics until sense prevailed – summed up the uncompromising defensive approach of La Albiceleste.

Javier Mascherano was the living embodiment of their spirit, responding to a rare error before the half-time break by chasing down Thomas Mueller with the look of a man who was ready to kill to prevent the Bayern star getting his cross away.

SEIZED

Mascherano, who last week recalled a stint at West Ham where Alan Pardew preferred the services of Hayden Mullins, has seized this competition to remind the world just what an excellent player he is once deployed as a defensive midfielder as opposed to a makeshift centre-half.

What Argentina have lacked is a playmaker that can complement his work in the engine room. Lucas Biglia and Enzo Perez specialise in graft.

Germany, by contrast, are weighted towards personalities that are easy on the eye and versatile enough to react to a switch of approach.

Khedira's unexpected absence also serves as a reminder that they reached this level without a host of formidable players in a variety of positions, especially the brilliant Marco Reus.

The Bender brothers, Ilkay Gundogan, Holger Badstuber and Marcel Schmelzer could also have figured in different circumstances, a decent enough list which emphasises the depth of their talent pool.

The aforementioned flexibility was showcased in extra-time with the withdrawal of Klose and the arrival of Goetze bringing Loew back towards a version of the ‘false nine' strategy that kicked off their tilt in Salvador four weeks ago.

Not only did they have youth in their corner, they had the advantage of a stress-free semi-final compared to Argentina's draining slugfest with the Dutch.

Against Brazil, Germany bullied a team devoid of character. Alejandro Sabella's sturdy side are a different animal and Loew's troops had to prove they had the composure to break down an opponent who seemed content to wait for the agony of spot-kicks.

The reserve of ideas initially appearing to be running dry in a fragmented extra-time period delayed by stoppages.

Germany probed again, however, and Schurrle and Goetze combined to send both their travelling fans and the Brazilian crowd home happy.

The technically perfect control and left-footed volley that won the day was the culmination of over a decade's work built towards making a proud football nation great again. In the game's spiritual home, the pretenders came of age.

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