It was fitting that the Germans snatched a dramatic last-gasp winner to claim the final.
Fitting because they were the best team and deserved to be crowned champions.
And fitting because it was a twist in the tale to seal a wonderful tournament that was consistently riveting.
Super Mario Goetze’s strike meant that Brazil 2014 equaled the most goals ever in a World Cup competition, and it would have been a shame if the championship game had ended goalless. Germany was the top scorer both in European qualifying and at the tournament, and having a winner on the field is always preferable to the lottery of penalty kicks.
They are the first Europeans to lift the trophy in the Americas and, with a young squad and an abundance of talent, they could dominate international soccer for years. Clinical and slick in their attack with a fantastic work ethic, they defend as a unit and stopped a talented Argentinian front line from managing a shot on target in two hours.
If Argentina had won Sunday — considering how confidently it dispatched the Netherlands on penalties in the semifinals, it was a real possibility — then the Germans’ display in their semifinal would have been wasted. Now that seven-goal humbling of host and favorites Brazil, a performance unprecedented in the modern era, will be remembered as the stepping stone to the title, rather than fade into being a footnote.
This was a wonderful World Cup. Possibly the best of all time.
We saw plenty of goals — you have to go back to 1970 for a greater per-game average — and it wasn’t just quantity but quality, with sporting poetry like Robin Van Persie’s diving header for the Netherlands against Spain, Tim Cahill’s volley for Australia against the Dutch and the Colombian James Rodriguez’s wonder hit versus Uruguay.
All four quarterfinals were settled by a single goal, and many matches were nail-biting contests until the final whistle, with a record seven of 14 knockout-stage games going to extra time. There was late drama from the first days to the end, with outcomes decided by strikes in injury time.
We enjoyed the fairy-tale run from Costa Rica to reach the quarterfinals and marveled at the United States escaping an incredibly tough group. We had the death of Spain’s “tiki-taka” style of play and a crushing end to Brazil’s four-decade unbeaten home record. We had players fighting with teammates, players assaulting team officials and players biting players. There were cagey contests with hardly an effort on target and the pell-mell bedlam of games like the U.S. against Belgium that chalked up an incredible 56 efforts on goal.
Keeper Tim Howard became the first American to make a Team of the Tournament, not based on the subjective view of journalists or fans but as compiled by respected soccer statisticians WhoScored. His outstanding individual heroics — no keeper produced more saves per match — will go down in U.S. soccer history.
But after Sunday’s showpiece watched by an estimated one billion people, we say goodbye to the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema and prepare for Red Square and the Kremlin. Soon enough it starts all over again as more than 200 countries will play over 800 elimination matches spread over three years to see which 31 teams join Russia in 2018.
For those who follow the kind of football that’s played with a round ball, nations in every nook and cranny on Earth want to be part of the biggest sporting spectacle on the planet.
See you in four years.