In the aftermath of winning the World Cup, German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer said something that embodied why this particular achievement means everything to the select group of footballers lucky enough to say they are a world champion: You are not just champion for a day, a year, or even four years until the next edition of football’s ultimate competition. You are a champion for all time.
"At some point we will stop celebrating," said Neuer, "But we will always stand up again with a smile."
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There may have been echoes of 1990, with a replica scoreline of Germany 1, Argentina 0. Yet this was a triumph for a new German style of football. That was then: Dour and hard-fought. This is now: A sophisticated football system, which has been thought out, worked at, and honed over the past decade. They finally, joyously, reaped the rewards for what has been sewn with such commitment. Germany were comfortably the most cohesive team in the tournament and their achievement is merited.
Joachim Low, the coach who has been part of this evolution since he assisted Jurgen Klinsmann for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, a tournament that was effectively a rebirth for a national team that earned a new love and respect from supporters, tried to find some perspective.
"We’ve been together now for 55 days," Low said. "We started this project 10 years ago, so this is the result of many years’ work, beginning with Jurgen Klinsmann. We’ve continued that work and our strength has been our constant progress. We’d not made this ultimate step before, but champions do what they will do. We believed we’d win it."
Low added: "We showed the best performances for seven matches of all the team in this tournament, but we’re looking back over ten years of preparation and hard work. This team has developed a spirit which is unbelievable. We’re proud to be the first European team to win a title in Latin America, in Rio, in Brazil, in a footballing country par excellence… and this makes us proud."
Philipp Lahm, the understated and almost ludicrously consistent captain, dedicated the win to the group. "Whether we have the best individual players or whatever does not matter, you have to have the best team. We stepped up time and again in the tournament, did not let ourselves get distracted by any disruption, went on our way. And at the end you stand there as world champions — [it’s] an unbelievable feeling."
Those who remember the old Maracana Stadium — crumbling and soulful and historic even if in recent years it fell into disrepair — wonder if some of its aura was lost as if was rebuilt, reinvented as a modern bowl up to the highest FIFA standards at considerable expense. But the goal to win this World Cup was worthy of the style of football associated with the name Maracana. Mario Gotze’s strike showed such ingenuity and sweet technique.
Low had challenged the substitute to make his mark. "I said to Goetze: ‘Okay, show the world you are better than Messi and can decide the World Cup. I had a good feeling about Goetze. In extra-time we had the energy to move forward. We didn’t want to go to penalties. We wanted the game decided before then."
Germany had suffered more than might have been anticipated after its scintillating 7-1 semifinal exhibition at Brazil’s expense. That is a credit to Argentina, whose boldness in their play made it a more compelling and unpredictable spectacle than had been anticipated.
"The players are very sad," said Argentina’s coach, Alejandro Sabella. "We had a huge dream, to win this final, but to be perfect we needed to be more efficient. I’m sad for the players, but I’m pleased they gave their all. They are an extraordinary group. These were warriors. I know we’re talking about football, but I hope you understand what I mean. They left their skin on the pitch. Their last drop of sweat, they did everything for the group."
Their sadness was something to cling onto for the hosts of this eventful World Cup. The seven fingers, which had been rammed down the throats of Brazil fans by the Argentina masses who descended in their thousands to the Copacabana, could come back at them. They could be interpreted as a five and a two — the scoreline in World Cups between Brazil and Argentina.
The last word on this World Cup goes to Pele, who was at the Maracana watching, "Once again we showed that football is the biggest family on the planet," said the Brazilian legend. Sometimes that family disagrees, sometimes it teases or even fights each other, but everybody can empathize with the contrasting emotions of conquerors Germany, and conquered Argentina.