Weltmeister!

July 14

Gary Lineker — one of England’s finest-ever strikers who now vies with Posh Spice to be the orangest British celebrity each year — predicted the outcome of this World Cup after losing a semi-final to die Mannschaft in 1990:

Football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball around for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.

The Germans may project supreme confidence about their destiny, but these tournaments aren’t easy for anyone to win. Twenty-four years — a lifetime for many of Germany’s best players — have passed since they last won, with plenty of failures littering their record in the meantime. And to capture this World Cup, they had to scrap and bleed all the way to the 113th minute.

After drowning Brazil’s soul in a tsunami of goals, Germany’s dynamic attack had captured everyone’s attention ahead of the final. But Argentina’s stout and swarming defense was never going to be as hospitable as Brazil’s. In four of their prior six matches, Argentina hadn’t conceded a single goal. And with a back-line shielded by players like Javier Mascherano, willing to bust their butts — quite literally, I’m afraid — Germany never enjoyed enough time on the ball to do real damage to the scoreline.

When the winning goal did come, the strike was worthy of a world championship. In a single move, the Germans showed off all their depth, power and style. One substitute, Andre Schürrle, sprinted down the left flank and drew a trio of Argentine defenders, yet still contrived to deliver a pinpoint cross.  Another substitute, running with his back to goal, controlled the cross with his chest, swiveled and scissored a glorious volley into the side netting. And this one moment of sublime footballing genius by Mario Götze will explain in the years to come why so many little Deutschers have an Italian name. Götze was something of an unlikely hero, looking more like Renée Zellweger than a sporting champion, but his strike seemed to show that Germany could field another entire team of spectacular talent.

The Germans certainly deserved their victory and to become the first team ever to cross an ocean to win the World Cup on South American soil. They dominated the ball and were constantly stabbing deep thrusts into the Argentine defense. Yet the Argentines were at their best and far more aggressive than in their previous knock-out matches. They unleashed their counterattack like a coiled puma, leaping forward to create several very dangerous chances.

Higuaín, Palacio and Messi will all lose vast hunks of sleep to their misses. Higuaín was the beneficiary of a back-pass gaffe that strikers fantasize about, but when he found himself alone in a dark alley with the German keeper, he could do no more than dribble a feeble effort off his shin and into the annals of Argentine ignominy. Palacio, too, distinguished himself with an atrocious effort. Before this game, I thought the scariest thing at the World Cup was the nightmare Amazonian insect that tried to mug James Rodriguez, but now I know it was the sickening sight of Palacio’s rat-tail and his grotesque inability to put the ball on frame when one-on-one with Manuel Neuer. Messi’s opportunity was nowhere near as open as those two, but it was the kind of chance that almost always concludes with the ball rolling past the keeper’s fingers inside the far post.

Not one of this trio of shots required a save out of Neuer, who was more active in winning his Golden Gloves by dropping Higuaín to the canvas. The Argentines will get to enjoy their second-place medals with a heaping dose of regret.  The shame seemed to begin right away, as they trudged through a “Lords of Discipline”-style phalanx of bodyguards who had their backs turned to the losers.

Now we must thank the Brazilians, who sacrificed themselves in so many ways to put on a brilliant tournament. As we get to look forward to another petro-fueled Russian spectacle led by Commissar Putin in four years, Brazilians have to go back to living in their country, with ten billion fewer dollars and their venerable soccer heritage in tatters. And those terrifying bugs. Even the closing pyrotechnics had a poignant hue, with all those yellow and green fireworks presumably intended for a different champion.

Thank you also to the Volokh Conspiracy and its passionate fans for indulging so much soccer talk for the past month.

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