In the end, the right winners. Yet, even if Germany are deserved champions, Argentina had enough chances to win three matches. Gonzalo Higuain, Rodrigo Palacio, and Lionel Messi all fluffed their lines before Mario Goetze, the forgotten man of this German squad, scored one of the great goals to win a fourth world crown for Germany.
Germany’s victory is a triumph for a rational, prudent, and inclusive way to organise professional football in the 21st century. The Bundesliga has some of the finest stadia in world football, attracts the biggest crowds, and has not priced out its working-class supporters. German clubs are run by the fans for the fans, with some reasonable accommodation for the necessary ways of capitalism in modern professional sport.
Put simply, profit is not the motive for German clubs. You won’t hear German fans talk of club accounts or brag about sponsorship deals as if economists at a finance convention. Clubs still play a central role in local communities and form part of the pyramid that, unlike in England, is headed by the national team. Foreign ownership is effectively prohibited. A club must remain in the hands of its members, the fans.
Sport plays a social role in Germany. It is of and for the people. It’s a quaint set-up by English standards, but then Germany takes little heed of English standards when it comes to performing in international competition. Four World Cups and three European Championships speak for themselves. Champions League titles are less representative of a nation’s true standing as they are earned by multinational teams – so there is no national inquest when Bayern or Dortmund fall in Europe. The Bundesliga exists for its own reasons and complements rather than dominates the national team.
On Sunday, a decade and a half of planning came to glorious fruition. Goetze’s goal – the most important he will ever score – got Germany over the line at last. Having finished third in 2006 and 2010 and second in 2008, Germany finally finished first, two years after a crushing unexpected loss to Italy in the European Championship semi-final. While victory owed something to ghastly Argentinian finishing, nobody could deny the Germans their moment. Joachim Loew’s team played with risk, but they refused to change their style to accommodate the opposition. There were no special plans for Messi. Germany played its own game.
In this column, Loew has been criticised for playing Philipp Lahm out of position, and for slavishly following Pep Guardiola’s ideology in moving the best full-back in the world into a midfield that didn’t need him. Guardiola has form. It was he who moved the exceptional Javier Mascherano into the centre of defence at Barcelona when anybody with eyes could see that the Argentinian pitbull was one of the world’s most accomplished defensive midfielders. As his performances in this tournament proved, Mascherano is magnificent in his rightful place. Moving him into defence is an act of negligence – or narcissism.
As mentioned here in recent weeks, clever coaches learn from their mistakes. Loew finally learned from his after Germany’s Algerian wobble. He preferred to risk being called weak than to jeopardise his team’s continued involvement in the tournament when he moved Lahm back into defence. In that moment, Loew showed guts. Whether he genuinely acknowledged his error or whether the fitness of Sami Khedira was the catalyst for the switch, he wasn’t afraid to do the right thing. In that moment, he went a long way to winning the tournament.
The evisceration of Brazil was the most astounding match that I have ever witnessed at a World Cup. That four-goal salvo in six first-half minutes was an eye-popping, jaw-dropping monument to belief and brilliance. Other teams would have sought to protect an early lead against Brazil in Brazil, but Germany savaged the hosts, surgically dismembering the last vestiges of Brazilian entitlement having clinically identified their weaknesses. Only Germany could do that. Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Croatia certainly didn’t.
In some ways, that performance meant that Germany had an obligation to win the final – or be remembered as spectacular chokers. At some point, a team must take the next step or be condemned to regression. Despite the pressure, Germany delivered – but only just. In the end, though, winning is all that matters.
The Germans have the monkey off their backs now and that makes them even more dangerous. This has been a long time coming. Laughed at during Euro 2000, Germany no longer fields the ungainly likes of Carsten Jancker or Thomas Linke, honest as those players were. Talent is the watchword now. If Oezil wouldn’t do it, perhaps Kroos would. If Kroos couldn’t, maybe Mueller would. If not Mueller, perhaps Goetze. And so on. In the event, Jerome Boateng was the man who stole the show, defensively at least. There was no dependency on one or two players here. This was a million miles from the Ballack and Kahn show of 2002 where nobody else could compare with the only two genuinely world-class players in the squad. This Germany won the World Cup without Marco Reus. That speaks volumes for their depth.
This squad is not without its flaws, but it found a way to win and overcome every challenge thrown in its way in Brazil. Even on Sunday, when Khedira cried off in the warm-up and Christoph Kramer was forced out of the match on the half-hour with suspected concussion, Loew and his players found a way. Sure, Argentina let them off the hook, but the Argentinians were playing in the margins, needing to take the very rare chances that came their way. Aware of this, they snatched at them anxiously. Germany, plugging away, never lost conviction that their moment would come. When it did, Goetze made it count.