For a little over two and a half hours Sunday we were treated to a spectacular finish to an amazing World Cup Tournament, one that even saw Americans showing soccer enthusiasm as the US team made the final sixteen. My wife and I were on the edge of our seats at a local pub as we’re too cheap to have cable. We were pulling for Germany and experiencing moments of panic, such as when Toni Kroos messed up a head shot and gave Argentina a clean shot at a goal. Later it appeared Argentina had scored only to be ruled (correctly) offsides.
There were also numerous moments of hope. Germany handled the ball well, a shot went off the post and passes just missed – Miroslav Klose, the all time World Cup goal leader was just off on handling a pass. The tension was palpable. Because games are often won 1-0 at this level, every possible goal is exciting.
It looked, alas, like it was going to be a 0-0 decided by a penalty shoot out. Then in the second overtime, at minute 113 the incredible happened.
Let me back up. At minute 87 Miroslav Klose left the game to thunderous applause. The 36 year old is retiring and this was his last World Cup appearance. The camera focused in on his replacement, diminutive midfielder Mario Goetze. At 5’9 and just 145 pounds, the 22 year old from Memmingen Germany who plays for FC Bayern Muenchen looked almost like a child heading into the most important game in four years. I thought to myself, “wow, they’re removing the all time World Cup goal leader? But that kid might end up a hero tonight, you never know.” I was prescient.
Goetze’s talents have been known to the German soccer world for some time – he’s one of the brightest up and coming stars. That night it was only fitting that as Klose’s replacement he’d score the winning goal. It came at minute 113. Andre Schuerrle sent a cross pass to Goetze as he closed into the goal. He skillfully controlled it with his chest and kicked a perfect shot past Sergio Romero, who had been spectacular for Argentina the entire tournament. Suddenly Germany had a 1-0 lead with only seven minutes to go!
Argentina did get another shot when Lionel Messi, who won the Golden Ball as the World Cup Tournament’s best player, had a chance with a penalty shot. It sailed over the net, and Germany held on to win.
Wow! Schuerrle, who made the pass, had come in earlier in the game to replace Christoph Kramer, who left with a head injury.
Of course, for Germany this victory came on the heels of an unbelievable 7-1 shellacking of the favored Brazilian home team. At this level games with scores like 7-1 are unheard of. It was a shock. The German press didn’t know how to respond the next day. Americans used to blowouts now and then (Superbowls that end 52-14, or a World Series game that is 10-1) might have thought it was just a bad day for Brazil. But soccer is a game of such skill and control that at the level of the World Cup semi-finals this just doesn’t happen. It would be like a 96-6 Super Bowl!
Brazil lacked two of its regular players, but clearly what happened was more psychological than physical, and involved a kind of collapse that a very disciplined and opportunistic German team could take advantage of. The trouble started when Miroslav Klose scored to set the World Cup all time goal record, overtaking retired Brazilian hero Ronaldo. That put Germany up 2-0, which is a huge lead in World Cup level soccer. It’s hard to score twice, especially if the other team focuses on defense.
For whatever reason, perhaps a momentary lapse due to the fear of letting down the home crowd, Brazil collapsed. Within the next six minutes Germany scored three more goals (this was all early in the game – Klose’s goal was at minute 23). Toni Kroos scored twice in a row so fast many thought they were watching a replay of his first goal. It was a complete breakdown. Germany scored two more timesin the second half and Brazil finally got a goal near the end, but soccer fans were left realizing there might not be a game like this at the last stages of the World Cup in 50 years. Or ever. It also speaks to the level of skill and control soccer players need to demonstrate – and almost always do!
So Germany wins its fourth World Cup, the first officially as unified Germany. The others were in 1954, 1974 and 1990. Germany would unify in October 1990, and that World Cup victory was in the midst of an amazing transformation – it was just after the wall came down and before unification. Germany lost to Brazil in 2002 the last time it got close. Of course, Mario Goetze wasn’t even born when Germany unified or Germany won its last World Cup.
To be sure, most Americans didn’t really follow the World Cup, especially after the US was eliminated. Conservative pundit (or jester) Ann Coulter mocked soccer, saying that American Football was a real man’s sport. Yet if one gives soccer a chance, it’s clear that there is a good reason why this is the world’s most beloved sport. Perhaps only Quidditch is superior. And even Coulter would have to admit, soccer players have much more impressive physiques! And it was nice to watch a sporting event that didn’t take time out for TV commercials.
So the World Cup is over, and tonight I was out practicing soccer with my eight year old son who is on a soccer travel team this fall. He’s already better than me (and knows it), and it’s good to see young Americans finally embracing soccer – or to be accurate, football.