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July 14, 2014 / ultrafox1963

Gotze gives Germany World Cup glory

German side in celebration - a sight the planet may have to get used to

German side in celebration – a sight the planet may have to get used to

A strike by Mario Gotze, eight minutes from the end of extra time, proved enough to clinch victory for Germany over Argentina in the 2014 World Cup Final.

Although the game was far from the classic that many fans had craved in order to crown a tournament that has often intrigued and occasionally enthralled, it remained tantalisingly poised until the dramatic finale.

The Germans, heavy pre-match favourites following their 7-1 semi-final victory over hosts Brazil, had dominated possession and territory for long spells, without being able to break down a determined, disciplined Argentine defence.

But the Albiceleste will reflect ruefully on the number of gilt-edged chances they spurned before Gotze’s late winner.

A foretaste of the tensions that lay ahead came during the warm-up when German midfielder Sami Khedira strained a calf and had to be replaced by Christoph Kramer in the starting line-up.

Both sides made a somewhat tentative start to the game as the pressure to lift their country’s first major honour of the 21st century was clearly felt by many players in Rio’s iconic Maracana stadium.

It was therefore no surprise that the first clear chance of the game – to Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain – should arise from an individual error.

A woefully-misplaced defensive header from German Toni Kroos sent the experienced striker clear on goal. However, he blazed wide when, at the very least, he should have forced opposing keeper Manuel Neuer into a save.

The talismanic Lionel Messi created the next opportunity with an exquisite run and pass which sent Ezekiel Lavezzi clear on the Argentine right. His cross was superbly finished by Higuain, but the striker made his run too early and an offside flag curtailed his side’s celebrations.

Meanwhile, at the other end German attacks continued to be thwarted by a blanket Argentine defence. Kramer was unable to make full use of his unexpected appearance, as he suffered concussion in an accidental clash of heads and was replaced by Andre Schurrle.

Argentina continued to threaten on the break and another Messi run almost brought them the lead. His low cross from the right eluded Neuer, but the lack of attackers in the box allowed Jerome Boateng to make a clearance.

However, Germany ended the first half as the stronger side, with Schurrle forcing Sergio Romero into the first save of the match and Benedikt Howedes wasting a glorious chance when heading a Kroos corner onto a post.

Argentine coach Alejandro Sabella made a tactical switch at the interval, replacing Lavezzi with Sergio Aguero to boost his strikeforce.

This move almost paid dividends within minutes as Lucas Biglia sent Messi clear. But to gasps of disbelief and disappointment from watching Argentine fans, he pulled his shot a foot wide of the far post.

In Argentina’s next attack, Neuer sent Higuain sprawling when rushing to punch the ball away. But Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli – who gave an exceptional display on the evening that wholly justified his selection for the occasion – rightly waved away penalty claims.

As the half went on, Germany gradually regained their rhythm, with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil particularly influential. The Argentine defence stood firm, though, allowing the German strikers few clear opportunities.

Gotze, replacing the veteran Miroslav Klose after 87 minutes, attempted a sensational winner in stoppage time. However Romero easily dealt with the substitute’s long-range effort.

The game exploded into life early in extra time as both Schurrle and Ozil were denied in quick succession, before Aguero wasted another Argentine chance, blazing wide when a cross to Messi might have brought better reward.

As fatigue set in on both sides, tackles flew thick and fast and several players came perilously close to receiving second yellow cards. But the referee showed common sense in resisting the clamour for dismissals.

Finally, with the prospect of another penalty shootout looming large, Germany struck the decisive blow. A Schurrle cross from the left found Gotze in space and he showed commendable composure before beating Romero with a left-foot drive.

Messi had one further opportunity to earn redemption at the death when given a free-kick 30 yards out. But his effort sailed harmlessly over the crossbar, taking his nation’s hopes with it.

His indifferent performance, together with those in previous matches, continue a pattern which has become all too familiar during big games in 2014.

Time and again during the past season, Barcelona looked to Messi to deliver in big games against the Madrid clubs, and time and again he was found wanting.

The hope was that in the biggest game of his career, he could finally produce a display which befitted his undoubted talent. But it proved not to be, though he was subsequently given the somewhat-hollow consolation of being awarded the FIFA Golden Ball for player of the tournament – to the consternation and astonishment of many observers.

Many Argentine fans will not unduly care about missing out on a tournament that few of them expected to win. For them, success was finishing further than Brazil – a mission that their side duly accomplished.

Others, though, will agonise about the missed opportunities and wonder whether Sabella made best use of the resources at his disposal. In particular, the early deployment of Aguero, who was clearly far from fully fit, may have tipped the balance of the game in Germany’s favour.

However, on the evidence of their performances in the tournament as a whole, the Germans were deserved winners. Joachim Low’s squad possessed the most quality, resilience and depth of any seen during Brazil 2014. Although occasionally vulnerable in defence – as shown again last night – their extra ruthlessness in front of goal proved to be the factor that ultimately propelled them to the summit of the world game.

The German trophy drought – which had lasted since the heady days of Wembley and Euro 96 – has now been brought to a close.

Few expect that this team will have to wait another 18 years for its next honour.

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