Brazil 0 – 3 Netherlands
It’s the game that nobody wants to play after having gone through the heartbreak of a semi-final loss. The Brazilian players surely would not have felt like showing their faces in public only a few days after being well and truly humbled by Germany, or perhaps they saw it as an opportunity to exit the tournament with a victory and gain back a sliver of lost credibility. If that was their script then you can be certain that the Dutch weren’t reading from the same one. For a team whose coach said they’d rather be on a plane back home than playing this game they played some brilliant football, which is odd as one wonders why they hadn’t played like this, proactively that is, in their quarter- and semi-finals. Perhaps it’s partly that Brazil were, again, so woeful that they allowed the Netherlands to coast defensively. Brazil had altered their line-up with Jo, Ramires, Willian, Paulinho, Silva and Maxwell coming into the starting 11 at the expense of Fred, Hulk, Bernard, Fernandinho, Dante and Marcelo. The Dutch stayed true to their setup with only Sneijder out with an injury during the warm up; De Guzman was his replacement in attacking midfield. It was thought that a returning Thiago Silva would bring some much needed stability and calmness, absent in the semi-final, to Brazil’s defence, however it was Silva who gave away an avoidable third minute penalty. Van Persie converted easily and Brazil were in a familiar position. The key test would be how Brazil would respond, after not managing to turn the tables against Germany. Fourteen minutes later we had our answer when David Luiz cleared feebly with his head, the ball dropping to Daley Blind in the centre of the penalty area. He kept his cool and finished high into the net. Both teams attacked, the Dutch looking to extend their lead and Brazil seeking to overturn the deficit. With few scoring opportunities from Brazil it was the Netherlands who surfaced with the killer blow in second half injury time with Wijnaldum, Netherlands unsung midfielder throughout this tournament, who scored to make it 3-0, heaping further misery on nation already on their knees. There was time for one last talking point as Van Gaal switched goalkeepers in the third minute of injury time, bringing on Michel Vorm. This change ensured that every one of the 23-man Dutch squad had seen game time during the 2014 World Cup. The Netherlands fly home having punched above their weight while Brazil contemplate a tournament that started with so much promise but ultimately ended with some serious repercussions for Brazilian football.
Germany 1 – 0 Argentina
And so our attentions turned to Rio de Janeiro, specifically to the cathedral of football, the Maracana. It was 50 years ago that 171,000 packed into the old Maracana to witness the death of Brazilian football. This time the Brazilians weren’t involved, though the continent was still represented. It was Europe vs South America. Efficiency vs flair. The world’s best team vs the world’s best player. Germany vs Argentina. Based on the semi-final showings of both teams the expectation was for Germany to have a reasonably comfortable game, but at the same time there was no one willing to completely discount Argentina’s fire power. And that man, Messi, capable of instant magic. The first chance fell Argentina’s way and was horribly screwed wide by Gonzalo Higuain from close range. It came as the result of a misjudged backheader from Toni Kroos. Higuain pounced on a similar unexpected chance in the game against Belgium but couldn’t make Germany pay here. Perhaps it was the occasion that got to him. Later in the half the Albiceleste fans in the stands and around the world were on their feet as Higuain put the ball in the back of the net only to be ruled offside, correctly. Right on the whistle of halftime Germany had their best chance as Howedes headed against Argentina’s upright. At halftime it was scoreless and it was clear Argentina were proving a much more stern test for Germany than they’d had all tournament. Messi should have put Argentina 1-0 not long into the second half but pulled his shot inches wide and Palacio chipped Neuer late on but again it was slightly off target. The game ambled into extra time and it was still even, tit for tat. On 113 minutes a lofted ball was sent forward by the Germans and it found the fleet footed Andre Schurrle who killed it with his first touch. He stopped the ball dead. He threw a quick dummy to the right but moved left, evading the Argentinian defender.. It was a quick counter attack; the Argentinians were struggling to get numbers back into defence. Schurrle was still charging down the line, this time with two Argentinian defenders for company but still he managed to squeeze the ball through to the centre of the pitch. The ball found Mario Gotze who was positively steaming into Argentina’s penalty area. It was all so fast. The cross was too high; surely Gotze wouldn’t be able to control it. He did: the first touch so elegant, with his chest. His second touch sent the ball past the flailing Romero and into the net. It was a goal and it had just won Germany the privilege of lifting that World Cup trophy high into the Rio night sky.
Words will have to do
The 2014 World Cup was a time for nations to take centre stage at the spiritual home of football. We saw the greatest characters of the world’s greatest game testing each other on football’s most iconic stage. Cultures clashed, stars were sent packing, and the game rewarded those with courage to be noticed. The world watched in awe as the Spanish empire crumbled, an era of utter dominance coming to a tragic end. The minnows had their day and a young Colombian called James Rodriguez gave us the chance to dream again of limitless possibilities. Perceived no-hopers ran alongside kings, pushing them closer to the edge than ever before. The harshness of the penalty kicks ended dreams and robbed the fairy-tale of millions. There were the villains, the heroes, the vanquished, and, of course, the victors. There was a final that put the world’s greatest team against the world’s greatest individual. Brazil produced a World Cup of humanity, a tournament of depth and substance, high quality, missed opportunities, breathless pace, endless passion and inspiration. Let us not forget that we are in a time where football is being accused of losing touch with its moral compass. However this tournament, for a time at least, returned to the people. At the end of the day the most important thing is the people, that’s all a World Cup is. Yes it centres on a series of unforgettable football matches but it’s people that make the difference. Individuals in their thousands coming from across the globe. Fans, players of all nations, all united for a moment under one flag, for one pursuit, the world game.