Germany won the World Cup. Host Brazil won a world of new friends.
The now four-time world champions earned the honour of lifting the most recognised trophy in sports with a tooth-and-nail 1-0 victory in a final as terrifically entertaining as the tournament itself.
For a 32-day showcase of football at its best, the winning goal was beautifully appropriate. Mario Goetze controlled the ball with his chest and then volleyed it into the Argentinian goal. Scored in the 113th minute, the mortal blow left Argentina too little time to recover.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, sitting in the VIP section with other world leaders, waved a clenched fist as Goetze celebrated. When referee Nicola Rizzoli blew the final whistle a few minutes later, Vladimir Putin reached across and shook Merkel’s hand. Russia hosts the next World Cup in 2018.
Sepp Blatter, president of World Cup organiser FIFA, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff embraced as Germany’s players went crazy with joy and Argentina’s wept.
One of the ironies of this World Cup is that even though the tournament will be remembered as a resounding success, it was a headache for Rousseff and Blatter to the end.
As they handed over the gold trophy to Germany captain Philipp Lahm, the Maracana Stadium echoed with an insulting chant aimed at the Brazilian president. There were resounding boos, too, when she was shown shaking the hand of losing coach Alejandro Sabella. Such protests were also heard at other stadiums during the tournament, demonstrating how the party atmosphere was really only a thin veneer for grave public misgivings about $13 billion of spending on cup preparations.
The teams treated the watching world to 30 minutes of extra time because they were still scoreless after 90 minutes, the iconic Maracana bathed in light looked like a spaceship landed between the hills, high-rises and favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
The 74,738 fans had a ball, especially Germans and Brazilians who didn’t want Argentina, their neighbour and fiercest football rival, to win a third world title. They drowned out the Argentinian fans’ tireless, jaunty singing with piercing whistles and shouted “Ole!” when Germany players’ had the ball, weaving their game of intricate passing.
The biggest game in football attracted a sprinkling of celebrities. David Beckham hugged Pele. Supermodel Gisele Bundchen snuggled with her husband, NFL star Tom Brady. Rolling Stones front-man Mick Jagger was there, too.
As they played into extra time, the two exquisitely matched teams gave and sought no quarter. Germany brought brawn, its intricate passing and movement and tireless determination to attack again and again. Argentina responded with bruising defence and craftiness and could have won had its players not wasted chances.
For the highest stakes in football, players bruised body and soul. German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger was carrying a cut under his right eye as he walked up with his teammates to collect the trophy. Midfielder Christoph Kramer played on for 14 minutes with a suspected concussion before he was replaced by Andre Schuerrle.
Kramer’s head injury was the last in a series at this World Cup that will put pressure on football to better protect players from concussion.