It made perfect sense that the 2014 World Cup final went into extra time and kept an electric crowd at Estadio Maracana — and an estimated global TV audience of 1 billion — on edge. This is the World Cup that didn’t want to end. It has been too much fun. And it is in Brazil, after all, land of late-night dinners and all-night parties.
Why end the final game in 90 minutes? Why send all the visitors home and leave gracious host Brazil to deal with its unresolved social problems, its crumbling favelas and a broken-down, humiliated soccer team?
So, the two best teams in the tournament, Argentina and Germany, battered and exhausted, toiled on after regulation. The deciding goal — a beauty — finally came in the 113th minute, from substitute Mario Goetze, who used his chest to trap a perfect curling cross from Andre Schuerrle, dropped the ball to his left foot and volleyed it past Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
Argentina hadn’t conceded a goal in more than 450 minutes, and this one would be the dagger.
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Germany won its fourth championship, became the first European team to win a World Cup in the Americas, and ended a 24-year Cup drought.
Meanwhile, for the third World Cup in a row, stoic and beloved Argentine superstar Lionel Messi, a four-time World Player of the Year and highest-paid player on the planet, goes home without the one trophy that has eluded him. It is the one prize he so desperately craved. After the match, he was awarded a Golden Ball trophy for best player in the tournament, but the look on his face as he accepted it said it all. That was no consolation prize.
“The Golden Ball doesn’t mean anything to me at this moment,” he told TV Publica and TyC Sports of Argentina. “I only wanted to lift the Cup and take it to Argentina. Yes, the Golden Ball is an important trophy, but I couldn’t enjoy it.
“I think we were the superior team, that we deserved more. We didn’t finish our chances even though we had situations to score.”
Messi wanted to take a World Cup trophy home to the Argentine fans, almost 100,000 of whom flooded this city over the past 48 hours. They came in planes, cars, taxis, buses and campers. They serenaded the city into the wee hours from sidewalks, cafes and makeshift campgrounds at the sacred Brazilian SambaDromo, where samba was replaced by Tango.
The boisterous Argentines moved their party to Maracana on Sunday, chanting nonstop. “ Ole Ole Ola, Argentina Va Ganer!” (Argentina’s going to win) they sang. As the game wore on, the stadium video screen showed closeups of tense Argentine fans clutching rosary beads. After the game, they were wiping their tears, smearing their sky blue and white face paint.
Midfielder Javier Mascherano said: “The pain is immense. We wanted to take the Cup back to Argentina once again. We are gutted. We gave what we could, and we are sorry for the people who came and for the people in Argentina.
“The pain will be for life because this was our opportunity. We have to lift our heads and endure the pain.”
The German fans were fewer in number, but overflowing with spirit, decked in red, yellow and black hats, wigs and capes. One held up a poster that read: “We Won’t Let Argentina Win in Your Home,” a message to Brazilian fans.
And they didn’t.
A massive fireworks show erupted over the historic stadium as the Argentine team trudged off the field, leaving the Germans to celebrate their historic victory with their supermodel girlfriends, wives and children. The Germans weren’t as expressive as some of the other teams in this tournament, but Sunday night they went wild, wiggling their hips and doing a line dance in front of their delirious fans.
Even stone-faced German coach Joachim Loew was smiling and pumping his fists, the weight of his nation lifted from his shoulders.
German captain Philipp Lahm said: “What we have done and how we have worked is incredible. 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. And at the end you stand there as world champions — an unbelievable feeling. The team has remained quiet and patient.”
Said Manuel Neuer, who was voted the tournament’s best goalkeeper: “It’s incredible. The team did it beautifully. At some point we’ll stop celebrating, but we’ll still wake up with a smile.”
It had been gray and drizzling here since Tuesday, the day Brazil’s team — a five-time champion and once the envy of the world — was humiliated 7-1 by the Germans in the semifinals. But the sun came out Sunday just in time for the much-anticipated clash of continents.
The postcard-perfect weather, wide Copacabana beaches and iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, with its outstretched arms welcoming the world to this breathtaking city, made the perfect backdrop for the big game.
Estadio Maracana was the place to be Sunday, and seated among the crowd of 74,738 were Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (who was booed mercilessly every time she was shown on the screen), German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Pelé, LeBron James, Mick Jagger, Shakira, Rihanna, and David Beckham with his three sons, all the boys in Argentina jerseys.
There had been much hand-wringing about whether Brazil could handle an event of this size and magnitude. Its infrastructure was called into question, and there were fears of rioting, transportation snarls, crime and unfinished stadiums. The Brazilians proved the skeptics wrong, pulling off a tournament that ran smoothly and swept most of the nation’s 200 million residents into party mode.
Other than a few hundred protesters on the opening day and again on Sunday, demonstrations did not detract from the event. And there were plenty of police to keep the streets safe. On Sunday, more than 20,000 police and military patrolled the city, allowing fans to enjoy the game.
The final was loaded with subplots.
For Argentina, in addition to Messi’s personal quest, it was a chance to win its first World Cup in 28 years — and to do it in the Brazilian soccer temple of Maracana in front of so many adoring Argentine fans would make it that much sweeter. Germany had knocked Argentina out of the quarterfinals of the past two World Cups, and the Argentines wanted revenge.
Germany had plenty to play for, too. It had advanced to 10 of the past 13 World Cup semifinals, including the past four, but had not won a title since 1990, when Jurgen Klinsmann — now the U.S. coach — was a star for Germany.
German defender Mats Hummels said: “I am still completely trapped in another world, physically too exhausted to be able to rejoice euphorically. But that will come in the coming days.”
It was clear from the opening whistle that there was a lot on the line. The game was extremely physical, with heads smashing, knees knocking and plenty of shirt-pulling. German player Bastian Schweinsteiger, looking like a heavyweight boxer, left the field briefly with a bloodied face. He returned a few minutes later. Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain took a nasty knee to the head/neck from leaping German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, but he, too, stayed in the game.
Nobody wanted to sit this one out.