Brazil ’14: A German farewell to a splendid month

The full-throttled, united “hurrah’s” from the fans, the acute Darkian observations from Ian Darke, and Pharrell’s “Happy”, as it echoed around the stadium, all rung in our ears for the final time this World Cup.

For the fourth time, Germany has conquered the tournament, and for the first time, a European team has done so in South America.

During most of the tournament, the focus was around Brazil and the persistent narrative that – no matter how poorly it played in the game before – it was the favorite to win. Yet from the first days of the group stage, Germany seemed like the side most keen to win the technical aspects of each game; the defense was, while slow, organized nonetheless, the passes glued to each players’ feet, the runs without the ball were consistent and clever, and no member of the team really seemed more crucial to the side than anyone else. Which is what made Mario Götze’s winner in extra time against the Argentines not so surprising.

In a lot of recent major sporting events, the dynamic has been the star player versus the more well rounded team: Peyton Manning versus the Seahawks. LeBron James versus the Spurs. Lionel Messi versus Germany. It’s hard to bet against the Broncos, the Heat, and Argentina, simply because each of those teams posses a weapon that can alter the course of a game in an extraordinarily short time.

But, with football (soccer, Peyton, soccer) that dynamic often plays out in the favor of the more well rounded squad. The sport requires more fluidity and more constant involvement from every player than in basketball or American football. And that’s why a team that can master that fluidity, like Germany, trumps the star and co.

Germany caught the possession and held onto most of it for the first half, but Alejandro Sabella’s side looked more likely to score as it applied pressure after German attacks and zoomed past the slow Mats Hummels and Benedikt Höwedes multiple times. Ezequiel Lavezzi and Messi created opportunities on their own simply with their speed and dribbling, and Sabella was mistaken to remove Lavezzi before the second half; after Sergio Agüero replaced Lavezzi, the blue-and-white’s were less aggressive and their attacks took longer to develop.

Fatigue affected both sides in the second period, as the weariness from an exhausting season with their club teams and the pain from making it out of the previous rounds culminated in the heavy legs and minds of the players. Neither side had a convincing stretch of dominance or aggression, and the transition to extra time was unsurprising.

Jérome Boateng

Jérome Boateng

Both defenses were fantastic throughout: Ezequiel Garay and Martín Demichelis stayed compact and on their toes in the middle, while Pablo Zabaleta and Marcos Rojo played conservatively to clog the center of the pitch against the Germans. Where Hummels lacked pace, Jérome Boateng flashed like lightning to the feet of the Argentine attackers, making tackles all around the field and appeared to be the most energetic player in the game.

Yet the powerful engine that was Argentina’s defense ran out of fuel in the second half of extra time, when Demichelis was about ten yards away from Götze as he turned in the goal with just two touches.

Perhaps, in the end, it was just a matter of fatigue; André Schürrle was uncontested by the worn Argentine defenders as he floated down the wing before delivering the winning cross. And on the other end, where Argentina had dedicated all three of its substitutions, there was seldom movement and creativity, and their speed had ceased to be an advantage after regulation. Overall, though, the most entertaining, well coached, and cohesive team in Brazil was victorious.

With the goals, the underdogs, the bite, and the global decision to all focus on the same event, it’s been a wonderful month. And I can’t help but think that everything about this tournament – from the Brazilian players’ intense relationships with their fans, the puddles under the eyes of one of the most pressured people on Earth in Messi, to the smooches the German players exchanged after the final whistle – has appealed to our emotions.