Germany were worthy champions in what was probably the best World Cup I've seen -- and I started watching them back in 1974. This tournament had it all: A huge haul of goals, but also stunning goalkeeping performances, stout defense in the later rounds, lots of late drama, overachieving minnows and mighty giants brought low, and football history being made. Even the Bite Seen 'Round The World just added some spice to things.
To win the World Cup, this German side had to beat, in order, France, Brazil, and Argentina. This was a daunting task and by far the toughest draw that any team had to negotiate this year. After dismantling Brazil in the semifinal, a loss in the final would have been a huge anticlimax, but the Germans made sure that wasn't going to happen. I'd been wondering why coach "Jogi" Löw hadn't been using Mario Götze that much. So I was happy to see him come on as a sub, and not at all surprised by the sublime finish he produced to win the game and the Cup. Götze had labored for a couple of years under the nickname "the German Messi," which saddled him with the burden of outsized expectations. Fortunately, you don't hear that term anymore; and Götze showed his quality when it counted most.
Two things I will remember from this final -- and both occurred after the game: One was the obvious lack of ego on the part of the German bench, where Lukas Podolski, who is used to starting but who was unused late in the tournament, led the subs in congratulating the starters with obvious affection and joy. The German team is nicknamed "Die Mannschaft," which simply means "The Team," and it's the perfect name for this group. The other thing I will remember is the German squad lining up and applauding the Argentines as they ascended the stairs in the stadium to receive their silver medals. The announcers pointed it out as a nice touch, and my daughter asked, "Isn't that just normal good sportsmanship?" Of course it is, I told her, but you'd be surprised at how seldom you see it.
This tournament produced a host of great memories: Guillermo Ochoa stopping everything Brazil could throw at him in Mexico's goal; Tim Cahill's wonder-goal for Australia that briefly caused cardiac distress in the Netherlands; learning to pronounce James as "Hah-mess" because Colombia's James Rodriguez kept demanding our attention; Angel Di Maria's last-minute winner for Argentina versus Switzerland; and of course, Tim Howard's one-man version of "Custer's Last Stand" against Belgium.
But what this World Cup really saw was the ascendance of soccer/football into the conversations and hearts of more Americans than ever before. Even with the American team out, it seemed like everyone was talking about the Cup; and every bar or restaurant was showing games between countries that many Americans would have trouble finding on a map. As I write this, at home with the window open, my neighbors are in their backyard with their young son and daughter, both under five years old. They're playing soccer, as both mom and dad "announce" the proceedings. This wasn't happening last summer.
I've ended each of these World Cup blog posts with a song -- mainly because I'm expected to write about music and it seemed like a good way to justify my nattering on about soccer instead. For this final post, I will offer two songs. One so obvious you can already see it coming I'm sure; the other far more obscure but perhaps more to the point.
So Germany, go ahead and sing Queen's "We Are The Champions." You deserve it.
But Brazil, thank you for a hugely memorable tournament -- and for proving to millions that the World Cup is, in the immortal words of the late-'70s English post punk band 999, "The Biggest Prize In Sport."