Bravo, Germany! Football has a new king
By: Fernando Duarte
Few people, even Argentine hardcore fans, will dispute that Germany are deserved winners of the 2014 World Cup. In a tournament so full of surprises, Joachim Löw’ s side has been the most solid and apart from their suffering against brave Algeria in the round of 16 never really looked like ending early their participation. Germany’s 1-0 extra-time win over Lionel Messi and his teammates is also the triumph of the group over the individual and rewards Germany’s courage to transform their football 10 years ago.
As saddening as the view of a desolate Messi was, the result on Sunday night at the Maracanã was fair to what the Gemans did in the tournament and in the final game. It is true that Argentina will be ruing the chances they missed in regular time, especially Gonzalo Higuain’s first-half miss, but those chances only came because Germany took the risk of attacking Argentina. Their game flow was exquisite at some points and even the lack of quality in the final third was compensated by the whole play in Mario Götze’s goal. A beautifully created collective goal finished by a young master.
Like we all expected, Alejandro Sabella did not make the foolish choice of trying to take the Germans at their own speed and passing game, as Brazil learned the hard way in the semifinals. Putting sometimes nine men behind the ball, the Argentina manager played all his cards in a moment of inspiration from Messi and mistakes by Germany. He also made a smart move by deploying Ezequiel Lavezzi to torment left-back Benedikt Höwedes, a left-back by trade that took the World Cup thanks to the shortage of players in that position in Germany at the moment.
The mistakes came and Argentina could have led by two in the first half. But Messi’s only real “presto” moment came in extra-time and the finish let him down. While it is harsh to consider his World Cup a failure, it’s fair to assume Messi will feel he could have done more. After bailing Argentina out in the group stages when the Albiceleste found more trouble than anyone imagined to dispose of Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria, Messi was kept quiet by opposition in the knockout rounds, failing to score a single goal. Hence the annoyance that his election as player of the tournament caused in some influential people in the football world, Diego Maradona included.
At 27, Messi has at least another World Cup in him and one can expect great pressure for him to deliver in Russia in four years time. But Argentina have learned in Rio that even the guy who is arguably best player of the last two decades will need good supporting actors to pull off a World Cup title. Which is why Germany already look in pole position for Euro 2016 and Russia 2018. A quick look at the squad they took to Brazil will show they have 14 players who will be younger than 30 in four years time, including Götze and other instrumental pieces like Thomas Müller and Toni Kroos.
That will be frightening for the opposition to deal with but at the same time the German success is not secret. Since their humiliating Euro 2000 exit, the sporting authorities in the country changed their approach and invested not only in youth development but also in whole change in philosophy. While the physicality for yesteryears is not gone — the Germans now play with a fluidity that even Brazilian were envying before the 7-1 domestic drubbing they endured a week ago. The Germans had the humility to study and learn with other countries and the elements such as the intricate passing patterns Spain used so well between 2008 and 2012 are easy to spot.
From Holland they learned the occupation of spaces on the pitch that sometimes gives the illusion Germany are playing with 14 men instead of 11. And as we all found out in Brazil, they also borrowed something from the land of Pele and Garrincha: they seem to have a lot of fun doing what they are doing. During this World Cup, while many teams were locked away from the public, Brazil included, Germany also took time to enjoy the experience and the images of players like Bastian Schweinsteiger behaving like a little kid on the Brazilian Northeastern seaside reminded us all that football does not have to be treated like a battle all the time.
Germany look in pole-position for a period of world domination that could match Spain’s recent reign and while things can change pretty quickly in football, one has to feel that the Germans are not achieving this level by accident. A work of decade has taken them to at least five major tournament semifinals in a row and has also delivered a fourth star on their team shirt. Other teams, including Argentina and especially Brazil, will have to start working hard tomorrow if they are to avoid being left further behind that they already are.
The best World Cup in generations had a fitting finale and worthy champions. Brazilians, despite their disappointment at the fourth place finish, should feel honored for the tournament they organized and for the quality of football they hosted.