It takes a while to build a World Cup winner. There are no magic solutions to assemble a team capable of lifting this trophy. The process requires foresight, patience and talents to form the right foundation. Even at that point, there are no guarantees of eventual success.
Germany spent the past few years crafting a collective team worthy of winning its fourth title in Brazil. It took one last display of diligence and persistence over this 120-minute gauntlet to deliver it. This edition of Five Points explains how the Germans managed to stave off Argentina and lift the trophy with a 1-0 victory after extra time at the Maracana.
Late change leaves Germany adrift in the early stages
Both coaches wisely ignored the temptation to tinker with their starting XIs, but the warmups dealt Germany a rather cruel blow. Sami Khedira pulled up with a calf complaint and forced Jogi Löw into a late change in central midfield. He plumped for Christoph Kramer in a like-for-like switch and watched his team flail around a bit as it adjusted to the swap.
By swapping Kramer for Khedira, the Germans lost some of their reliable cadence in the early stages. Argentina — and the central midfield duo of Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano, in particular — focused on dropping deeply and interrupting the play. Those efforts produced tangible benefits as the Germans failed to hit top gear or navigate through the organized Argentinian rearguard.
The loss of Khedira also reduced one of the necessary alternatives in possession for Germany: the direct, vertical ball into the channels and through the line. Bastian Schweinsteiger nearly sent Kramer through on one such pass in the first half, but that sort of service never really presented much of a threat.
Germany, as expected, enjoyed plenty of the ball in the first half without posing much menace from the run of play. The dynamic afforded Argentina the opportunity to play for the counter and try to nick the goal required to further its defensive efforts
Argentina tips first half balance by maintaining its conservative approach
Most of those measures worked beautifully at the outset. Argentina kept its line tight, relied on Bigila and Mascherano to force the play wide and waited for the right times to break on the counter. Alejandro Sabella — at least at the first half — hit every tactical note perfectly.
The expected area of profit on the right flank developed accordingly. Ezequiel Lavezzi created most of the problems with his relentless running, though his end product — aside from one tempting cross turned home by Gonzalo Higuain in an offside position — did not meet those lofty standards. Lionel Messi also drifted into that area to find pockets of space and start his usual runs back into the channel. Both players did a good job of creating one-versus-one situations on either Benedikt Höwedes or Mats Hummels by drifting into dangerous spots. Messi nearly created a goal from one such opportunity five minutes before halftime, but Jérôme Boateng recovered to snuff out the threat.
The state of play in the first half — Argentina absorbing some manageable German pressure and then pushing forward with limited numbers to pose a threat on the break without sacrificing solidity — worked well enough. Higuain even spurned a glorious chance when Toni Kroos played a poor ball back to Manuel Neuer. All in all, the opening stages of the match suited Argentina well.
Lavezzi substitution narrows play and reduces options going forward
Sabella opted to make a change at halftime and threw Sergio Agüero into the fray to replace Lavezzi. Agüero is a superior player when fully fit, but he proved the wrong choice in this game. His arrival reduced the numbers in midfield and tempered any efforts to use the wide areas.
The corresponding effect essentially restricted Argentina’s primary sources of joy and subdued most of the threat on the counter. Sabella justified his decision as a proactive choice to chase the game in his post-match press conference, but it actually proved more effective in closing the time and space afforded to Schweinsteiger than it did to perk up the Argentinian attack.
At this stage of the game, the emphasis remained firmly fixed on the wide areas with Germany particularly focused on its right flank. Both teams boasted far too much strength down their spines to create much of anything in the center of the park. Sabella’s move essentially forced most of Argentina’s play into the congested portions of the field. It led to a corresponding improvement from the Germans as they attempted to translate their possession into a more tangible advantage.
Germany increases tempo as second half progresses
Löw made an injury-enforced change before halftime when Kramer — caught in the head by Ezequiel Garay’s shoulder and somehow permitted to stagger onwards for a few minutes — departed through injury. Löw did not have another holding player available to him at that point. He instead opted to insert Andre Schürrle and move Mesut Ozil back into midfield to perk up his midfield play.
The benefits eventually emerged as Germany upped the tempo in the latter stages of the second half. It took a bit too long for the Germans to spot and subsequently hit the diagonals to switch the point of play, but the belated introduction of those maneuvers created some profitable opportunities out wide. It also allowed Germany to continue its focus on the right with most of the endeavor coming from Philipp Lahm pushing forward to create a viable option on the overlap.
Germany stitched together most of those factors to produce a genuine chance in the final 10 minutes. Lahm played a direct and quick ball up the right channel for Ozil to collect in the final third. Ozil drifted inside and then pulled back toward the top of the penalty area. Kroos made a timely late run to meet it, but he pushed his effort tamely wide to send the match into extra time.
Götze winner offers worthy last image from this final
Kroos’ miss rather summed up the work in front of goal for much of the day. Höwedes somehow turned a header onto the near post from six yards on the stroke of half time, while Higuain, Messi and Rodrigo Palacio all wasted opportunities to give Argentina a tangible foothold. The first team to create and then take an opportunity always loomed as the likely winner.
Germany ultimately managed to procure a goal of considerable quality to decide the game. Schürrle carved out a modest amount of space on the left and served an inviting ball to the near post. Mario Götze – the third and final German sub – collected the cross on his chest with his first touch and then swept it inside the far post from a tight angle after 113 minutes.
The late bit of magic decided a final with fine margins between the sides. Argentina defended well and kept its shape impeccably, but it failed to produce a shot on target in 120 minutes. Germany enjoyed most of the possession without doing enough with it for long stretches, but it summoned that wonderful sequence to ultimately decide the affair. The extra bit of quality eventually separated the teams on the day and wrapped this tournament with the best team in Brazil holding the trophy.