It’s over. Germany outlasted a defensively stolid Argentina 1-0 in extra time to win their fourth World Cup.
Low-scoring World Cup finals are nothing new. Five of the last seven World Cup finals have been decided by one goal or less. Four of the last seven have gone to extra time. Two have been decided by penalties. You can look at this statistic and interpret it as a titanic battle between the two best teams in the tournament... or you can interpret it as two teams playing not to lose.
This game was neither, and it was quite good. Too often we see teams play introspectively and cautious in big matches like this one, but both teams wanted to win this match, and you could see it in their play. While not overzealous in their offense, both teams had their chances: Gonzalo Higuain (rightfully) had a goal pulled back for offsides, and Lionel Messi had an early chance that he put, agonizingly and uncharacteristically, just wide.
Credit to Germany. Despite a defense that was vulnerable to on the flanks, they looked fresher, calmer, and were more incisive when it counted. Jerome Boateng put in a man of the match performance for the German defense, though his efforts will likely forever be subsumed by Mario Götze’s fantastic goal in extra time. Iconic midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger spent, it seemed, more time writhing on the ground than running upon it, but his passing was sublime.
Argentina, surprisingly, considering the wealth of offensive options they have, arrived on the backs of their defense. The Argentines had not conceded a goal in 455 minutes of World Cup action and never trailed in this tournament until Götze’s wonder-strike. With a stable of offensive weapons like Messi, Higuain, and Sergio Aguero, one would have thought that Argentina would have been a little more clinical in front of goal. On another day, Argentina wins this match 3-1.
As for Lionel Messi, he’s being lambasted by some quarters of the football press for not being good enough, but the truth is that in this game he was merely good, when Argentina needed him to be masterful. It feels unfair to heap scorn upon Messi for not grabbing the match with both hands – after all, soccer is a team game – but when you’re the best player in football playing in your first World Cup finals, being good just simply isn’t good enough.
And so we draw the curtain on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and it was a beauty. I’ve been paying attention to international football since 1990, and while my memory is hazy when it comes to Italia ’90, this is by far the best World Cup I’ve ever experienced. The quality wins, the upsets, the drama, and the narrative, all held against the backdrop of a friendly, welcoming, and exotic Brazil, set the bar very high for Russia’s tournament in 2018. Brazil 2014 had its problems, but they pulled it together in the end, and they did it with style.
As for America, the US national team met its goal of escaping the Group of Death, and even endeared itself to the international soccer community, something that, dare I say it, is difficult to do when you’re the most powerful nation in the world. Viewership of World Cup matches in America is up a staggering 37% from the 2010 Cup in South Africa. More Americans watched. More Americans are fans of soccer today than they were a month ago. With luck and a little time, we’ll see whether that increased exposure turns into more serious long term American soccer fans. I certainly hope so.
So thank you, Brazil, for hosting and giving us perhaps the best World Cup in decades.
Draw curtain. Fin.
I close this entry with a thank you, and with an announcement.
First, I wish to thank each and every one of this blog’s readers for their interest, comments, and support over the past month. Your comments both on and off-line to my writing has been a blessing. I feel privileged to have been asked to write about my favorite sport and also to find such a receptive audience in northern Indiana. Being a soccer fan can on occasion be a lonely endeavor when you don’t live in a big city, but I feel a lot less alone now than I did.
In my years of sports blogging, I have rarely had as much fun writing as I have for this World Cup tournament for the Elkhart Truth. In fact, I was dreading writing this final blog post, as I didn’t want to say that my time blogging about soccer for the Truth is over.
Which is why I’m glad I don’t have to.
The World Cup has ended, but The Corner Flag will live on! The Truth staff has graciously asked me to continue to blog about soccer (though at a less frenetic pace) and I was very pleased to agree. For those of you who are interested in the beautiful game, I’ll turn my attention more to club football as the European seasons will be kicking off in a few weeks.
For those of you who perhaps discovered during this tournament that they actually like soccer and want to continue, I hope my posts will help you discover ways that you can continue to watch. And of course, there are things like the Women’s World Cup next summer, the 2016 Copa America, and lots of international soccer friendlies. Soccer doesn’t stop when the World Cup does.
Perhaps you’ll decide to follow your favorite World Cup players as they play for their club teams. Perhaps you’ll even fall in love with a particular league or club (as I did with London’s Tottenham Hotspur) and discover new depths to your interest in the sport
I’d like to help you along that journey.
So for now we say goodbye, but watch this space – we’ll continue soon with a guide on how to choose a club team.