World Cup: The Final Agony at the Maracaña
The Germans came in full force during the beginning of extra time to score the winning goal
Anyone who has followed Argentina in this World Cup has come to realize that the team that played in this final today is a completely different one from the team at the beginning of the competition. Following some shaky defensive episodes at the beginning of the tournament, the Argentine mastermind, Sabella, with his modesty, hard work, and very few words, built a formidable defensive unit.
Their fans came from all over Argentina. They drove in masses from Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Rosario, and other towns. Most were not even going to attend the final in person, but they chose to come to Rio anyway. They came with the dream of witnessing history, if not inside the Maracanã, at least in the vicinity of the legendary stadium. But the ones who stayed outside were the real fans, the hardcore Boca and River Plate football fanatics. It was almost as if they were acting as sentinels: on guard, waiting, and offering some type of protection to their beloved Argentina. They were waiting to take the Cup back home.
The passion for the game and Argentina is what made them make the arduous road trip and endure nights at campsites or even at the beach sleeping in the sand, since most did not even have reservations for a place to stay overnight.
But it was not to be. The German structured machine beat Argentina 1–0 in overtime in a very tight match and lifted the shining FIFA World Cup in front of a sold-out crowd.
The Germans did the impossible, and—what had never been done—they became the first European side to win the World Cup in South America, at the Maracanã in front of a Brazilian home crowd.
It was clear from the beginning that Argentina was going to defend deep into their own territory and exploit the offensive play of Messi and others. From the start, Hummel’s defensive play showed vulnerability in the left side of the German defense. And it clearly seemed that Sabella’s tactics were an inconvenience for the German players, who could not find the space to break the Argentine blockade. But it was Argentina who was clearly more dangerous and had the most chances in the first half, moving with speed in the counterattacks.
Argentina had the best opportunity to score in the first half in a mistake by Toni Kroos that left the ball with Higuaín, who missed a clear open shot. But it was the same Kroos who, with a header, hit the post at the very end of the first half.
And the second half was pretty much played in a similar fashion to the first half of the game. Argentina still defended valiantly and at times tried to exploit play in the counterattack, while Germany continued to have problems finding the space to impose their style of play.
It almost seemed as though the Germans were content in managing and dragging the game all the way into overtime. Maybe it was a strategy of counting on the possibility that they could go in for the kill, since Argentina had one less day of rest and were coming from an exhaustive match in the semifinals against Holland, where they played two halves of extra time. As the game progressed, it seemed more likely that the fate of both teams was going to be decided in extra time.
The Germans came in full force during the beginning of extra time, and Schüller forced Romero to make a daring save right in the opening seconds.
At the end, Mario Gotze scored the winning goal for Germany. One will always wonder what Argentina could have done if they had faced the Germans on equal terms, having the same number of rest days prior to the final.
From the beginning, while the beautiful Argentine anthem was being played, you could observe the steely, composed expressions of the South American players—a look that sent a message that they were here for a fight and to give their last drops of blood, sweat, and tears for the cause of the nation.
They did play a very close match, and it could have gone either way. It was also clear that, individually, the Argentine players were better than the Germans, and they showed themselves to be on par collectively as well. But the Germans were the more consistent team over the course of the tournament.
And this epic game was played at the grand Maracanã, a sacred temple of soccer that, even though transformed beyond recognition by the powers of commercialization, still imposes itself architecturally with a mythological aura. In this country of contradictions and unimaginable and perverse inequalities, the Maracanã is this sanctuary of football where rich and poor Brazilians alike have come together to witness some of the most memorable moments of the game.
It was here that the legendary Brazilian player Garrincha, with the most famous crooked legs the game of soccer has ever seen, destroyed his opponents with his mesmerizing dribbles. It was here that Pele scored his one thousandth goal. It was here that epic battles were fought in the ’80s between Flamengo, a local Rio team led by Zico with a massive following all over Brazil, and other titans of Brazilian football. It was here that Maracanã buried its greatest and own child, Brazil, when Alcides Ghiggia shocked a nation by scoring the winning goal in the 1950 World Cup final that gave Uruguay its second World Cup title.
And for reasons unknowable to man, the ghosts permeating this legendary football house said no to the Argentines. And it was here that Argentina today fought the greatest battle that country has ever witnessed—but it was not enough to send the Germans back home.
Mascherano was a giant, a leader in the field, and not only did he have a stellar performance today, but he may also be one of the reasons the South American squad got to the final in the first place. Against Holland, he saved Argentina, and his imposing presence and courage in the field clearly spread like fire to his compatriots. But his fight and that of his team was not enough to save the day.
The life and story of the mythic Maracanã is complex. While many have succumbed here, the building seems to have a life of its own. In a way, this living structure is bigger and more important than the greatest teams and players that have ever played in it. There is an eerie feeling to the place when you walk in, as if you are losing total control of your own destiny. It is almost as though the Maracanã will decide your fate.
It has buried its own, as it did with Brazil in 1950. And for whatever reason, the forces that be decided to award the Germans the greatest prize. Today, Brazil’s biggest nemesis in the football world, Argentina, was buried at the Maracanã.
Ricardo Guerra is an exercise physiologist. His articles have appeared in several international publications in five different languages, and his writing covers topics related to medicine, science and sports. He has a Masters of Science in sports physiology from the Liverpool John Moores University. He has worked with several clubs and teams in the Middle East and Europe, including the Egyptian and Qatari national teams.
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