It’s fitting that Mario Gotze wasn’t born when Germans last celebrated a FIFA World Cup triumph.
It’s a different world than the one that watched West Germany win the World Cup in 1990. Germany now is unified and sits atop the soccer world thanks to its 22-year-old hero and its “Golden Generation” of stars.
Gotze’s 113th-minute volley powered Germany past Argentina by a score of 1-0 in the 2014 World Cup Final on Sunday. The game was short on goals and quality, but the ending — Gotze’s moment of magic — was an apt reflection of a truly classic tournament.
Six games and 120 minutes of action in the final was enough to demonstrate to us all that Germany has the best national team on the planet and deserves the title in which it currently revels.
Argentina fought bravely to the end, and we sense that it would have competed for this world championship through eternity had the referee allowed them to do so. In the end, Argentina lacked the attacking quality that it needed to overcome Germany. Argentina had its chances, especially early on, but wasted them in a clear provocation of the soccer gods.
In the absence of clinical finishing and luck, Argentina faded as the game progressed. A momentary defensive lapse allowed Gotze to ghost in to the penalty area, control Andre Schurrle’s superb cross with his chest, and fire past goalkeeper Sergio Romero. While the game ended in a flash, the setup was 10 years in the making.
After crashing out of the 2004 UEFA European Championship, Germany reviewed and overhauled how it develops soccer players. Those sweeping changes bore fruit on Sunday.
Germany’s 2014 World Cup squad was loaded with talent. Head coach Joachim Low masterfully prepared his team and managed his players through the tournament so that they would be able to sustain the level of their performance throughout the tournament. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Low’s methods.
Germany midfielder Sami Khedira injured his calf during pregame warm-ups. Christoph Kramer replaced Khedira in the starting lineup, but his game ended after 32 minutes when he was helped off the field — still woozy from the effects of an apparent concussion he had suffered 14 minutes earlier.
If there are lingering doubts about Schurrle’s quality, his displays in the tournament and impact on the final should mute them.
Did we mention that Gotze came off the bench? He replaced Miroslav Klose, the 36-year-old striker who holds the record for most goals scored in the World Cup (16), in the 88th minute. Germans have known about how good Gotze is since he made his national team debut in 2010 — Germany’s youngest debutante since Uwe Seeler in 1954. World soccer aficionados have known about Gotze since he led Borussia Dortmund to the German league and cup double in 2012. Two years later, the whole world knows Gotze’s name and what he is capable of doing.
If only Argentina could call on that kind of talent to aid the cause during a time of adversity. Midfielder Angel di Maria suffered a thigh injury in the quarterfinal, and Argentina missed him dearly, failing to score a goal after his injury.
In the final, Argentina’s attack lacked drive from the midfield, and superstar forward Lionel Messi dropped progressively deeper in order to receive the ball until he was effectively playing as a midfielder. Meanwhile, Argentina’s other forwards either spurned scoring chances or had little influence on the game otherwise.
Once Germany found its footing in the 2014 World Cup final — after around 30 minutes — it was only a matter of time before it scored first. Argentina’s tired warriors were diminishing, while Germany’s united stars were growing in belief.
Winning the 2014 World Cup was a total team effort, but one player needed to produce a moment of supreme quality in order to validate it all. It makes perfect sense that one who was born after the Berlin Wall crumbled down delivered the crown to Germany. Gotze has no memory of the iron curtain and was only a boy when Germany was on its knees after Euro 2000. It doesn’t take long for the impossible to become reality. Time flies.