Germany 1 Argentina 0: Three talking points
Germany 1 Argentina 0: Three talking points as die Nationalmannschaft win their fourth World Cup
Germany finally earn the ultimate reward for an attacking approach
Coming into the World Cup Final, die Nationalmannschaft were living up perfectly to stereotype. Despite averaging fewer shots per game than Argentina, they had found more than twice as many goals, with only France of any team in the tournament able to claim a higher rate of strikes on target. Even in defence, they had put in significantly fewer tackles per game than their opponents, and they boasted the fewest interceptions per game of all – the epitome of efficiency. Their route to the final, therefore, had been built on possession, pressure and passing, led by Thomas Müller (who fell a goal short of becoming the first player in World Cup history to claim a pair of Golden Boots) and Toni Kroos. For most of the final, however, they were largely neutralised, with Kroos and Özil unable to work the ball through to Miroslav Klose, and Müller looking dangerous but without support. There was probing without penetration, control without thrust. There were a few dangerous crosses, particularly from the right, which Martin Demichelis was able to see clear; but then finally, in the 113th minute, a fine cross and an even better finish. One of these teams brought on an attacking midfielder in the final stages, the other a defensive one; to the braver manager the spoils.
Argentina denied at the last
If Germany’s road to the Maracanã had been strewn with goals, La Albiceleste had shown the benefits of parsimony. While Keylor Navas and Guillermo Ochoa amongst the goalkeepers have taken the headlines, Sergio Romero, with the highest-save percentage of anyone in the tournament before this evening, must take many of the plaudits. In front of him, Ezequiel Garay and first Federico Fernández and latterly Demichelis have been rock solid, largely restricting their team’s opponents to aimless pot shots, and at the base of midfield, Javier Mascherano has made a strong bid for player of the tournament, topping the charts for both most tackles and highest number of accurate passes. In front of him, though, there have been problems. In four games in the knockout stages including the final, Argentina scored half the number of goals that the Germans had managed in six minutes against Brazil. Lionel Messi, who had at times seemed to be carrying them on singlehanded, was ineffective against Holland, without a touch inside the penalty area throughout the entire game; and while he rectified that particular anomaly with a couple of typically thrusting early runs in the final, he was largely nullified thereafter. Did Argentina miss Angel Di María? Maybe. Messi’s wing man was unable to shake off his injury in time to start, and was replaced by Enzo Perez; and the latter offered nothing. For much of the game, the South Americans kept it tight, and Alejandro Sabella would have been happier with how things had panned out; but keeping a stalemate always leaves the risk of a late burst of quality.
A tired end to a fine tournament
These teams had reached the final in contrasting manners, and unsurprisingly, both tried to play to their strengths, with Germany looking to control the ball and probe for the killer chance inside the box, and Argentina staying solid in defence and seeking to release Messi. And there were flickers of what had brought both teams this far; but ultimately, it all felt a little cagey. To an extent, this could be explained by the pressure of the occasion, but it was hard to escape the thought that there was also a hint of physical and mental tiredness. Mats Hummels looked troubled and a little off the pace – it was noticeable that his influence increased as the other players’ physical condition receded to his level; Ezequiel Lavezzi sparked, but didn’t last beyond half-time; both teams pushed without great precision. Meanwhile, in a tournament which has been sullied on occasion by the violence of the Hondurans or the cynicism of the Dutch and the Brazilians, two of the cleanest teams in the tournament had reached the final, but both succumbed to a series of niggly fouls. It is sometimes the way of these tournaments, as seven high profile games in short succession at the end of a draining domestic season can leave many of the players running on fumes. It is difficult to know how that could change; it is simply unfortunate that the finale to such a generally fine tournament such as this should end up as ever so slightly underwhelming.