x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Loew inspired Gotze to ‘show the world you are better than Messi’

Germany coach says he gave eventual goalscorer pep-talk before bringing on as substitute in World Cup final, writes Gary Meenaghan.

Germany's Mario Gotze, left, celebrates near teammate Thomas Mueller after scoring a goal during extra time in their 2014 World Cup final against Argentina at the Maracana. Dylan Martinez / Reuters
Germany's Mario Gotze, left, celebrates near teammate Thomas Mueller after scoring a goal during extra time in their 2014 World Cup final against Argentina at the Maracana. Dylan Martinez / Reuters

RIO DE JANEIRO // Germany became the first European team to win a World Cup in the Americas on Sunday night and in doing so ensured Brazil, humiliated earlier in the week, would not have to deal with the added insult of fierce rivals Argentina celebrating a historic victory at their Estadio Maracana.

Substitute Mario Gotze controlled and executed an expertly struck volley deep into extra time after neither team had managed to break the deadlock in 90 minutes of regular time.

“It is an unbelievable feeling,” Gotze said. “I don’t know how to describe it: you just shoot, score and then you don’t know what is happening. A dream became a reality because it is a dream come true.

“I am more than happy – very proud of the team and what happened here in Brazil. It is absolutely sensational.”

Gotze, 22, wheeled away in delight when his shot hit the back of the net, yet seconds later he was seen straight-faced, either in a state or disbelief or a reaction that intimated he had merely met expectations. There were celebrations, yes; jubilance, yes, but no unbelievable outpouring of emotions. It had the feeling of accomplishment, of a job well done.

Joachim Loew, the German coach, introduced Gotze in the 88th minute as a replacement for Miroslav Klose, who had been disappointing. “He is a miracle boy, a boy wonder,” Loew said. “He can play in any position and has superior technical qualities. I know he can always decide a match because he is decisive and it was a great decider that he scored.”

For Argentina, it was heartbreaking; their dream of winning a third World Cup title – their first in 28 years – and doing so on Brazilian soil was ended in the 113th minute of a game in which they had enjoyed the better chances and without doubt the better support.

An estimated 100,000 Argentinians had made the pilgrimage north to Rio to show their devotion ahead of the country’s first World Cup final appearance since a 1-0 defeat to West Germany in 1990. With many camped in tents on the city’s beaches or parked in minivans at the Sambadrome, Brazil’s most famous city had been taken over by the country’s bitterest rivals these past few days.

The Brazilian response was to show allegiance to Germany, with the majority of locals turning up at the Maracana clad in white shirts and loudly jeering Alejandro Sabella’s players throughout an entertaining encounter.

Both managers had named the same teams who successfully negotiated the semi-finals, but when Sami Khedira, who had been expected to be tasked with taming Messi, pulled up with a calf injury during the warm-up, Christoph Kramer was drafted into the team for his first competitive start for his country.

It was the first sense that the stars were not aligned in Germany’s favour, a feeling that grew among the Europeans’ camp when Kramer suffered a concussion early on after a collision with Ezequiel Garay and was later forced off, still dazed, to be replaced by Andre Schurrle.

Argentina and Lionel Messi had enjoyed the stronger start to the match, with the Barcelona striker twice jinking his way to the byline and also feeding the ball out wide in a move that ended with Gonzalo Higuain – who had earlier missed a gilt-edged chance courtesy of a Toni Kroos error – slotting home from an offside position.

“We played and had opportunities to score, but we have to be more efficient and effective. We missed our chances,” Sabella said. “On one hand, we have pain for having lost the final, but I am pleased that the players gave their all.”

Germany’s forced change of personnel forced a change in German tactics and it helped them improve their attacking threat. The introduction of Schurrle saw Kroos drop deep alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger and suddenly Loew’s side were looking dangerous again.

Schurrle saw two shots well saved before, in first-half stoppage time, after a series of flowing attacks had broken down, Benedikt Hoewedes crashed a header off the post.

Sabella introduced Sergio Aguero at the break and within the opening couple of minutes, Messi had been played through on goal, only to watch his left-footed shot slide past the wrong side of Manuel Neuer’s far post.

The German goalkeeper was fortunate not to be punished for a 58th-minute collision with Higuain after launching himself into an aerial challenge with his knee raised unnecessarily high. It was potentially horrific, but Higuain escaped a head injury and Neuer escaped both a red card and notoriety.

The sharpness was slipping away as a series of fouls crept in, breaking the rhythm and forcing yellow cards for Aguero and Mascherano. Argentina, who had played 120 minutes in their semi-final with Holland, were growing tired, while Germany looked more energetic.

“We had played two extra times and we also played a day later than them,” Sabella said. “The only thing I can do is congratulate my players. They did an extraordinary work. They left their skin on the field, used every drop of sweat and offered everything for the jersey. They can look themselves in the mirror.”

Kroos dragged a late shot wide before Rodrigo Palacio – on for Higuain – failed to net during the first half of extra time when played through. With seven minutes remaining, a lofted ball by Schurrle found Gotze, who controlled the ball on his chest, swivelled and fired with his left foot past Sergio Romero to send the Germans – and Brazilians – in the stadium into raptures.

“The plans of both teams were quite similar,” Loew said. “Both teams wanted to decide this match in regular time. We had the better chances in the game, we were in a better position and, in extra time, we had sufficient energy to push forward. We didn’t want penalties. We wanted it decided before and we were able to exert more pressure on the opponent.”

It was fitting that Gotze, the Bayern Munich midfielder, should be the man to break the deadlock, added Loew: “I said to Gotze: Show to the world that you are better than Messi and that you can decide the World Cup. You have all the possibilities to do that. I had a good feeling with him.”

That good feeling extended to the entire team and an entire country as, with Germany’s prime minister, Angela Merkel, looking on, Philipp Lahm hoisted aloft the golden trophy. He had already changed his shirt. The new one had four stars, one for each of Germany’s World Cup championships.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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