herald

Monday 23 October 2017

Goetze the Germans' redeemer

Bayern star produces extra-time wonder-strike to win World Cup final against Argentina and cap off 'Copa das Copas'

A SPELLBINDING World Cup, a fabulous final and a sumptuous goal to settle it for the best team in the tournament: truly we have been blessed.

Whether the watching figure of Christ the Redeemer on the hill-top overlooking the Maracana had anything to do with it is a matter for the theological debate, but heaven knows this was a wonderful end to this marvellous Copa das Copas, the World Cup of all World Cups.

The spectre of penalties was looming distressingly large, when Mario Goetze, looking every inch the baby-faced assassin, produced a moment of true genius to secure Germany a 1-0 win and their fourth World Cup, and deservedly so.

It was pure agony for Argentina and their brilliant captain Lionel Messi of course, and their fans had arrived from the south in their tens of thousands, driving a 3,000-kilometres journey that took 30 hours.

Only a small minority had tickets, but the rest were content to merely be in this city of their mortal enemies to witness the chance of Messi joining Diego Maradona in the ranks of the immortals.

"Brasil how does it feel," they sung in the fan fests and streets of Rio, glorying in the moment before kick-off, while those in German white waited quieter but expectant: success such a familiar feeling.

Suffocating

After such a World Cup, there was a desperate need for a satisfying climax, and the trepidation that this would be a suffocating match soon vanished.

Joachim Low's Germany were full of enterprise and vigour, taking the game to their opponents, while Argentina were coiled and calculating, like a snake waiting to strike.

Inside the Maracana, the tension among the fans was palpable. Argentina have been among the noisiest this tournament and though blue-and-white stripes dominated the stadium - those Brazilians who had had tickets appeared to have cashed them in - the occasion seemed almost too much.

This was no repeat of the dreary semi-final against Holland. however. The fetters that had chafed Messi in that match were removed, and he was like quicksilver - slippery, unpredictable and almost unmanageable.

His speed was at times dramatic, often embarrassing the stalwart but sometimes static German defence.

One, twice, up to five times he threatened, but each time he was thwarted by some last-ditch interventions. His best chance, at the start of the second half, was created by a perfectly-timed run on to Lucas Biglia's ball, but his finish was a shade off perfection and, almost in slow motion, it drifted an agonising inch or so wide.

Heroes

This was a day for heroes, the youngest being Christoph Kramer, thrust in at the last minute having played just 12 minutes of the World Cup after Sami Khedira injured himself in the warm-up. Kramer was excellent but lasted only half-an-hour before a blow to the head suggested the c-word - concussion - and ended his match.

It was day for villains too. Gonzalo Higuain may never recover from his miss midway through the first half.

Toni Kroos, looking to become the first player born in the former East Germany to lift the World Cup, lost his bearings and sent a header back over his central defenders. Higuain, trotting back, suddenly found himself with only Manuel Neuer to beat.

He tried to take it in his stride and lash it home first time but dragged it horribly wide. Argentina's reaction spoke volumes. Javier Mascherano put his head in his hands, on the bench Sergio Aguero put his shirt over his face. When Higuain did get the ball in the net, his celebrations of rapturous relief were cut short by an offside flag.

A shoot-out would have been a dismal way to end five weeks that have thrilled the world and for that reason alone it was welcome relief when Schurrle drove forward and found Goetze, who controlled with his chest and struck an angled volley to break 40 million Argentine hearts.

What a World Cup it has been, and what a way to end it.

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