All Star Game, André Schürrle, Argentina, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Benedikt Howedes, Brazil, Christoph Kramer, Derek Jeter, Dodgers, Ezequiel Lavezzi, finals, Germany, Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi, Louis van Gaal, Manuel Neuer, Mario Götze, Miroslav Klose, NL West, Sergio Romero, Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos, World Cup
A historic World Cup final saw Germany become the first European team to capture the coveted championship when it was contested in the Western Hemisphere. After shocking the world with a demolishing win over host Brazil, 7-1, they emerged victorious, 1-0 over Argentina with a picture-perfect goal by substitute Mario Goetze midway through the second fifteen minute period of extra time.
Except for the fact that both teams struggled to finish off their scoring chances, the final in Rio de Janeiro was an excellently played match, worthy of the world stage it commanded. It was a lively match with both teams willing to make offensive forays. While Germany had better control of the tempo of the game, the Argentine defense appeared impenetrable and their offense able to occasionally counter with the more dangerous chances.
Both teams were without one key player for the match. A thigh injury kept one of Argentina’s key offensive players, midfielder Angel di Maria, out of the lineup. It is no coincidence that Argentina won and scored in their first five matches with di Maria in the lineup, then failed to score in their last two matches.
On the German side, one of their starting midfielders, Sami Khedira, had injured himself during pre-game warm ups and would not be fit for the game. Problems were compounded when Khedira’s replacement, Christoph Kramer, took a blow to the head. He tried to continue but eventually had to come out. The next day, Kramer reported that he remembers little of what happened during the game.
Fortunately for Germany, their tremendous depth meant they could pluck another talented player off the bench and put him into the match. That player was Andre Schuerrle, who had already scored three goals in the Cup finals. And it was Schuerrle’s excellent cross from deep on the left side that Goetze was able to control with his chest onto his left foot and one time a volley to the far side past Argentine keeper, Sergio Romero. Romero was not even the starter for his Monaco club team. But he became a key reason why Argentina, expected to be powerful on offense but suspect defensively, recorded shutouts in four of its six games before the final, winning by only one goal in each of the first five. In fact, until Goetze scored with just under 8 minutes remaining in extra time, Argentina had never trailed in a match.
After 105 minutes of relentless play, it appeared the game was slowing down with neither side taking as many offensive risks and were willing to settle for the match and the World Cup be decided by penalty kicks. In fact, Germany was marking time for a while as they were effectively playing a man short. Bastian Schweinsteiger was on the sidelines hoping the flow of blood under his eye from a collision could be stanched to avoid forcing Germany to use its final substitution. But out of that lull, Germany, attacking with three men while there were seven blue-shirted Argentine players back on defense, made magic with a perfect cross and a perfect execution in handling the pass and finding the net. Somehow despite so many players back on defense, it was the one time they gave a German attacker too much space.
Lionel Messi of Argentina was the player who was expected to make offensive magic in the championship match. But he was effectively contained most of the day. When he did have his chances late in the contest, his header in front of the German net sailed very high, and his free kick from a few yard outside the box in the last injury time had the same result.
Even so, Argentina has to look back at what might have been if they had taken advantage of some unexpected early lapses in the German defense. A rare German defensive mistake by Toni Kroos who thought he had room to head it back to his goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, gave it right to Argentina’s striker, Gonzalo Higuain, with no defenders between him and the goalie. But Higuain, who scored the only goal against Belgium in their quarterfinal match, flubbed the shot, dribbling it weakly past the left post so that Neuer was not even required to make a save.
Then, in a short span from the 30th to 36th minute, Germany’s flow was disrupted with the substitution required for Kramer, plus Schweinsteiger and Benedikt Howedes receiving yellow cards. Right after the first yellow card, it appeared that a cross from Ezequiel Lavezzi on the right had led to an Argentine goal. This time Higuain found the net, but he was also clearly offside on a play when he had plenty of space and no need to run that deep for the cross. So Higuain wasted two huge opportunities in the first half to be the hero.
Howedes had a golden chance in the final seconds of the first half as he got free for a point blank header off a corner kick from Kroos. But it squarely hit the right post and bounced harmlessly off Thomas Mueller into the hands of Romero. One goal in the final game would have given Mueller the Golden Boot as the top goal scorer of the World Cup finals, but it was not to be.
There was plenty of action in the second half as well, but perhaps the most important moment came in the 88th minute when German striker, Miroslav Klose came out of the game. It was the fourth World Cup for Klose and he set many World Cup records from those appearances. At the top of the list of his achievements: only player to play in four World Cup semi-finals, and with his goal against Brazil, passing retired Brazilian great Ronaldo with a record setting 16 World Cup goals.
One final note about Klose: the player who replaced him in the final was Mario Goetze. It’s almost as if he passed along the mantle and goal-scoring touch as they crossed paths on the field at Estadio Maracana.
A few days earlier, we had two very dissimilar semi-final matches. In Argentina versus Netherlands, the teams battled to a scoreless tie over 120 minutes before Argentina advanced to the final on penalty kicks. There are two interesting side notes on that game. First is that it was the second straight game for the Dutch that was decided on penalty kicks. In their quarterfinal match against Costa Rica, Coach Louis van Gaal brought on a substitute goalie in the final minutes of regulation time because he was superior to the starting goalkeeper on penalty kicks. But against Argentina, he couldn’t repeat that tactic because he used up all three of his quota of substitutes. And in a bit of irony, Argentine keeper Romero credited one man for teaching him how to stop penalty kicks: Coach van Gaal!
While Brazil was overrated coming into the tournament and trading on their home field advantage, no one would have forecast the thrashing they received from Germany. If the United States or some other squad of lesser reputation had suffered such a fate, experts would have nodded and intoned that it proved that these teams are still quite a way from reaching top level in the sport.
For Brazil, however, all the experts could do is shake their heads in wonder. For many years, Brazil had so many players of exemplary individual talents who could strike at any time, and might even have been more dangerous in a wide open game that would result once they fell behind by a couple of goals. This year, once Neymar was severely injured, they had no one in that skill category.
Looking back at my posts, I have to say that for a rank amateur observer, I did quite well in my forecasts back in December. I forecast that Groups B, D & G would be groups of death, including my prediction that Spain or Netherlands, despite their appearance in the 2010 World Cup final, might fail to advance to the next round. I missed on failing to give Costa Rica any chance to advance in Group D, but they won that group over Uruguay with Italy and England faltering. And I erred in picking Russia to advance ahead of Algeria in Group H. But now Russia will be able to focus for the next four years on the finals as they have an automatic entry as the host of the 2018 tournament.
I also correctly predicted that we would probably not see any upsets in the Round of 16 and Quarterfinals. And I predicted the Semifinals and Finals correctly, even to the extent that two of the matches would be close but Brazil would have trouble with Germany.
One final look at the USA squad: they have a number of questions to answer before 2018. One not discussed by me previously is the fact that they were able to win their qualifying round to get into the finals, but teams that they beat out, Costa Rica and Mexico, outplayed them on the world stage. They need to look at why those squads are able to do a better job rising to the occasion at this level of play.
Finally, two notes about baseball. First coming into the All Star break, my Dodgers led the NL West by one game over the Giants in the NL West. Sporadically I may do some updates on their progress, but not nearly as often as for the World Cup unless and until the Dodgers continue at this pace and make the playoffs.
And speaking of the All Star Game, it basically continues as a non-event after many years as one of the game’s premier attractions. Except for it being Derek Jeter’s final All Star Game, this year was no exception.
And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so. And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces. He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over. – 2nd Kings 2:9-14