Why Germany's World Cup win is a big win for world soccer
Germany won the World Cup Sunday, beating Argentina, 1-0, in a dramatic final. The victory was the culmination of Germany's blossoming soccer revolution.
At the end of what many have regarded as the most entertaining and offensively minded World Cup in recent memory, the team left holding the little gold-and-green globe was the most entertaining and offensively minded of the bunch.
On this day, Germany was, perhaps, not at its best. In days to come, Argentina will, perhaps, look back and wonder how, in those fleeting moments when the Germans got it horribly wrong, its players managed to do even worse.
The 2014 World Cup final Sunday was hardly the best game of a sparkling tournament. But then again, finals almost never are. This one, at least, was not the boxing match of Spain-Netherlands of 2010, when yellow cards flew like confetti. Or the tedium of Italy-France in 2006, when Zinedine Zidane headbutting an opponent was the only thing that remotely resembled excitement. Or the leisurely stroll of Brazil-Germany in 2002, when the Germans were fortunate simply to be there.
No, by the meager measure of recent finals, Germany's 1-0 win Sunday was fairly decent entertainment value, actually. Not only were both teams trying to win, but they both seemed capable of it. There was endeavor, chances, a good spirit and – in the last minutes – about 48 very tired legs.
But as we have come to expect these past five weeks, there was genuine drama and, in the waning moments, a goal of some genius forged by two German substitutes – a delicate chip played intuitively into space by André Schürrle and a balletic act of soccer sublimity by Mario Götze.
In the whirling space between heaven and earth, Götze, horizontal above the grass but utterly calm, found that one second of the extraordinary that had eluded the other 21 players on the field for 113 minutes.
To score the World Cup-winning goal with seven minutes to go is one thing. To score that goal to win the World Cup was a fitting statement. "Dear Brazil, Thanks for everything. Love, Germany."
But there was also something fitting about the scene after the game of Germany's two-dozen-odd players forcibly wrenching the Jules Rimet Trophy from each other. Being Germans, they eventually figured out an orderly system – pass trophy, lift trophy, cheer; repeat. Just like, being Germans, they had eventually figured out a system for winning the World Cup after 24 years.
Choose whom you like as your favorite team at this wonderful World Cup. But there is no doubt that few things could be better for world soccer than Germany as 2014 world champions.
You only need look at Götze's bolt of brilliance for the reason why. He's 22. Schürrle, the man who passed him the ball, is 23.
They are Germany's World Cup-winners, but they are also its next generation. Because for Germany, the future and the present has blurred into the same thing, and every nation could learn a thing or two from how Germany has done it.
Humiliated by a first-round exit in the 2000 European Championships (a World Cup-like event only for European nations), Germany decided to change, well, everything.
Known as a cautious team that relied on experience, Germany has now become the most prolific factory of young world-class talent.
Known as a team of efficiency but little daring, Germany has become the most unabashedly aggressive team in world soccer, taking the intricate passing patterns of Spain's tiki-taka revolution and pressing the accelerator to the floor.
In winning the 2010 World Cup, Spain scored eight goals in seven games. In Brazil, Germany scored 18.
Germany has done this by rebuilding youth soccer from the ground up both in training sessions given by the national football federation's nearly 30,000 licensed coaches to mandatory soccer academies run by the country's top professional clubs. The goal was not only to be more systematic in identifying and training the country's best young talent, but it was to teach them a certain style of playing.
That style has now been stamped across the historical marquee of the 2014 World Cup.
Sunday's final, with Götze's indelible moment, will be memorable in its way. But Germany never really found its rhythm after its midfield engine, Sami Khedira, pulled out of the game only minutes before kickoff with an injury. Several times, Argentina exposed Germany's weakness – a desire to send too many men forward – with intelligent counterattacks. Twice, Germany escaped only because Argentinian forwards missed the goal entirely.
But Germany's World Cup will be remembered most for the 7-1 evisceration of host Brazil in the semifinal. So often, the New Germany has faltered at the semifinal stage. This was the fifth consecutive major tournament in which Germany made the semifinal (2006, 2010, 2014 World Cups and 2008 and 2012 European Championships). But it's the first Germany has won.
Indeed, Sunday marked the end of what was, for Germany, a dry spell. It's Germany's first World Cup win since 1990, when it was West Germany. That tournament closed a remarkable run of three consecutive World Cup finals appearances – and five in seven – for the West Germans.
Sunday evening, those achievements didn't seem out of the question for Germany's new golden generation. Now, it's one and counting.