A lobby of green-ink heart attack candidates in the Sunday Times Culture section’s You Say TV forum (to whit: “What about the 50 million licence fee payers who don’t like football?”) have been wishing for four weeks that World Cup 2014 was all over. It is now. Thanks to the fleet left foot of the German substitute who looks like my niece’s boyfriend Shane – Mario Götze – who misshaped the bottom corner of the Argentinian net in the 112th minute from a cross by André Schürrle, Germany are now four-times World Cup champions, and this is their first team to win it since the Wall came down. A new star will have to be embroidered onto their shirt. Götze already is one, a 22-year-old symbol of Germany’s “New Generation.”
The Maracanã, pulsing with coloured lights from above like a sea anemone as the sun went down, hosted a thrilling final, whose single goal and singular lack of shots do not quite describe the action within. Having ungratefully humiliated the host nation and sent the whole of Brazil spiraling into despond – forced, by default, to cheer them on – Germany were the stronger side, but Argentina’s defence was stout. Unfortunately for the South Americans, their “demigod”, as Alan Shearer describe him, Lionel Messi, was only occasionally the best player in the world, and couldn’t finish.
However, and this is now a commonplace, Germany were a team: unreliant on demigods or talismen, they were eleven men, who simply looked for each other, passed clearly and cleanly, cleared some space, created chances, and, more often than not, converted those chances into goals. Only one last night, but it only required one. Stoically, they dealt with the zero-hour loss of Khedira – injured during training – by replacing him with Christoph Kramer, who was himself rendered dazed and confused by a shoulder to the bonce, and replaced by Schürrle. This is how a good team works. It is a sum of its parts. Brazil, as we have seen, cannot function without Neymar. Argentina, in this instance, couldn’t win without Messi. Messi was there, but not quite.
Let us not sanctify Germany; one or two of them did their fair share of diving (albeit not at the theatrical level of Holland’s Iron Robin, whose supercilious grin made him one of the most difficult to like stars of the tournament, right through to the pointless Third Place Playoff against an undead Brazil). But there are eleven reasons why Germany are the first European side to win the World Cup in South America. Oh, and one of those reasons happened to be the best keeper of the last four weeks.
As Gary Lineker said to the shy and retiring Alan Hansen during the suited-up half-time mull, “You like stats.” Here are some I’ve lifted from the BBC Sport website:
|Germany have won the World Cup for a fourth time. Only Brazil (5) have more wins.||Argentina conceded a goal in extra time at the World Cup for the first time.|
|Argentina failed to have a shot on target in a World Cup game for the first time since the 1990 final v West Germany.||Germany are the first European team to win a World Cup in the Americas.|
|Germany’s total of 18 goals is the most in a World Cup since Brazil scored 18 in 2002.||Argentina only trailed for seven minutes in the entire tournament.|
It was, of course, over for Brazil a lifetime ago on Tuesday, just after Germany’s second goal from Klose, when they went to pieces before the eyes of the world. Or, if you prefer to dig back a bit further: the moment Colombia’s Zuniga high-tackled Neymar in the quarter final and put him out of the frame. Or, if you prefer, the moment in the same match when captain Thiago Silva got sent off, for surely it was the lack of a cohering skipper as much as the lack of what Sam Matterface later called “a goal-scoring striker” that took the legs out from under Brazil. (Or Brazeel, Brazeeel, as I still call them, after the ITV theme tune, an affectation that has taken on a melancholy air.)
The semi final against Germany at Belo Horizonte has already gone down in the World Cup and even footballing annals as one of the most shocking ever played. And that’s according to people who’ve seen a lot more games than I have. It certainly left a lot of people horizonte. The word “humiliation” is an emotive one, but in the case of Brazil’s 7-1 drubbing – and that particularly surreal five minutes during which they scored four and the numbers went up like the counter on a pinball machine – it has hardened into cold fact. It really was all over before half time. Records were being smashed so often, there was no time to stop and appreciate the fact that Klose’s goal made him the World Cup’s highest ever scorer. (One of the reasons we didn’t have time to take it in was Kroos’s first of two, which he scored a minute after Klose’s.)
Over the last 20 years I have watched a lot of international football matches at two-year intervals, and there has been nothing like Brazil Germany, which was almost eerie. The volume on the majority Brazilian crowd dipped around the 20-minute mark and only recovered once when little Oscar pulled one back in the 90th minute. (Oh, and when they collectively booed their team off the park at the end of each half. Incidentally, you had to give shy and resigning coach Scolari some credit for taking the blame. He wore a “Forca Neymar” baseball cap as he went off, presumably with a lining of irony.)
It has been a memorable World Cup, already fading away like a white Rubicon of referee’s foam. All those South American players crossing and prostrating themselves before God – and, conceivably, Christ the Redeemer – to no appreciable avail. Enough yellow cards to build a replica Yellow Submarine. Two African sides in the final 16. So much offside. So many talismen. So much pointless, Jonathan Pearce-flummoxing goal-line technology at the beginning, and so much less of it at the end. So little Phil Neville come the end, too. So many goal-of-the-tournament contenders! My own favourite – hope it’s one of yours – was catapulted from the toe of 23-year-old Colombian forward and ingenue James “Haymez” Rodriguez against Uruguay in the last-16. It was art.
He also won the Golden Boot with six goals in five matches, ahead of Muller and Messi.
So much finely sculpted and greased hair. A few poodles. One or two headbands. In Neymar’s two-tone creation, a tribute to the drummer of Kajagoogoo. One ridiculous rat-tail sticking out at any angle from the otherwise shaven head of Rodrigo Palacio which, knowing my luck, will turn out to be a tribute to a dead member of his family, something he hasn’t cut since they perished, or something, in which case I’ll delete this aesthetic complaint. Apparently, Thierry Henry’s cardigan cost £505. You can’t buy that kind of style. And Adrian Chiles won’t stuff his tackle into those one-size-too-small M&S short again. He rather ruined the view when ITV’s gang were seated out on the Opinion Terrace. Only Fabio looked truly attractive with his legs out. But some kind of medal for the salmon-skinned Gordon Strachan and Neil Lennon for being outside at all. I wonder if anybody watched the Final on ITV? I mean, anybody at all.
I like the fact that, come the Final, I was able to name ten out of the eleven starting German team from their faces during what I still controversially think of as Deutschland Über Alles – albeit less of the Argentinians during Canción Patriótica Nacional. It’s small personal victories like this that make the four-week commitment worthwhile. This means that, in two years’ time, I’ll know about four of them, of course. But it’s a start.
I still haven’t quite got to the bottom of why a taciturn Scot in his 50s is “retiring” from sitting in a chair and talking about football, but farewell, Alan Hansen, in any case. You picked a good one to go out on.
I watched the final on ITV. I’m afraid I couldn’t face listening to Mark Lawrenson (for what turned out to be 120 minutes). I did turn over at the breaks.
Also, ITV’s onscreen graphics were really lovely and the use of sideways flags on the BBC was a really odd stylistic choice.
I don’t even mind the ITV pundits, I was just thinking: who would choose to have ad breaks? (Ironically, or not, we just paused the game when we needed to boil a kettle.) “Lawro” is certainly a whingeing drama queen, but his withering responses sometimes suit bad play.
I’ve really enjoyed reading your write-ups of the World Cup. Unlike you I watch an awful lot of football, both on the television and as a season ticket holder of my local club, and it’s been impressive how with your self-confessed limited knowledge you’ve managed to by-pass an awful lot of inconsequential blether in which more seasoned observers tend to indulge, instead getting almost always to the generally simple nub of the matter.
Just a couple of small points in this last piece – Klose didn’t score two goals in the semi-final, Kroos did, and the German national anthem has not been called Deutschland Über Alles since a rather less celebrated period in their history. Personally I think both of these are easy mistakes to make – I only learned the latter recently when hearing Robbie Williams tell a story of launching into it on stage in Germany, resulting in the simultaneous dropping of 70,000 jaws – but certain Twitter types got very animated about it when the BBC’s commentator made the same mistake during a game.
Thanks for the corrections, Captain. When you remain a visitor to the game, it’s really hard to remember all the names of the goal scorers in the right order. I’ve altered Klose to Kroos, but left the name of the anthem, as it’s what I call it (and have specified that).
It’s unlikely I’ll be called upon to commentate or write about future tournaments, but I still like to get it right!
I thought it was a funny joke, like Iron Robin.
In 1989 I went off to university. My corridor in halls was pleasingly cosmopolitan – 14 people, 5 nationalities – including a whip-smart German girl. Let’s call her Kirsten (that was her name, after all). As the year drew to an end, and Italia ’90 approached, a group of us got into a discussion about the World Cup which somehow ended with me launching into a rendition of Deutschland Über Alles… to which Kirsten replied, in perfect English but still sounding like Harry Enfield’s as-yet-to-appear “Jurgen the German” character, “We don’t sing that anymore…”
Trouble is, to anyone who grew up before the Curtain fell, that’s what the German national anthem was and, in our heads, always will be, I suppose.
I’ll miss Bra7il ….
How many times during one World Cup is too many to say, “Some village is missing its idiot”? Shame on you, Mark Lawrenson!
Under comedy clips on YouTube, I’m always amazed how many people post comments that are no more than quotes of the best punch lines or catchphrases from the clip. At the very least they should preface the quote with an introductory sentence or two, if only to demonstrate that they are aware of the redundancy inherent in what they’re doing.
“You can’t buy that kind of style.”