Germany 1-0 Argentina (AET): Gotze’s extra-time goal wins the World Cup
Germany won their fourth World Cup after victory over Argentina in a tense but enjoyable final.
Joachim Low’s team selection was compromised by the late withdrawal of Sami Khedira through injury. Christoph Kramer took his place – although he only lasted 30 minutes himself.
Alejandro Sabella’s side was unchanged from the semi-final against the Netherlands.
Both sides had promising moments in an even match – Argentina had the better chances before Mario Gotze’s late winner.
German possession v Argentine counter-attack
The game started at a reasonable pace but settled down quickly and took the expected pattern: Germany were 4-3-3, Argentina 4-4-1-1. Germany pressed higher up, while Argentina sat back and defended. Germany tried to keep possession for long periods, while Argentina attempted to play on the counter-attack.
There were no major surprises in terms of individual positioning, or who was tracking who – Mesut Ozil played even narrower than usual and offered some neat touches to link play, but otherwise everything was as expected.
Germany attack down right
In their semi-finals, both sides had offered the greatest attacking threat down the right – Germany breaking in behind Brazil’s Marcelo, and Argentina attacking into the space outside the Netherlands’ Bruno Martins Indi. This approach become obvious from a very early stage in this game, too.
Argentina’s midfield quartet started the game extremely narrow, blocking the centre of the pitch, preventing Germany penetrating the midfield cordon with straight passes into attack, and instead showing them wide. The full-backs were free throughout the game, but Germany’s left-back Benedikt Howedes (a right-sided centre-back by trade) doesn’t offer anything going forward. After an hour, there was a telling moment where Bastian Schweinsteiger received the ball towards the left of the pitch, turned around and expected to find Howedes overlapping, but instead he’d remained in position. Schweinsteiger’s reaction suggested great frustration that this potential route into attack had been denied.
Luckily, on the other flank Germany have the best full-back around, and their attacking play has been considerably better since Philipp Lahm reverted to his traditional right-back position, having played in midfield in the first four games. From the outset he received plenty of passes and had license to motor forward down the flank, often combining nicely with Thomas Muller. As always, Muller’s movement was excellent – he drifted inside to cause Marcos Rojo problems (winning an early free-kick from him) then returned to the outside to stretch play.
Lahm and Muller have a good relationship from Bayern Munich, and they continually played neat combinations into attack down that side. Lahm crossed dangerously a couple of times, then poked a through-ball into Muller who was narrowly offside. Later, a spell of pressure down the right led to a couple of corners, and Howedes headed against the post from Toni Kroos’ fine delivery.
Kroos was also a key factor in Germany’s dominance down the right. He had two different roles in combining with his Bayern teammates, either knocking long diagonal balls towards them, or moving forward into inside-left positions to receive low passes/crosses, as he’d done against Brazil. This wasn’t one of Kroos’ better games of the tournament, and his wayward back-header handed Argentina the game’s clearest chance, wasted by Gonzalo Higuain, but he did help to direct their attacking play.
Argentina also break down right
Argentina’s method of attacking was different, because they were playing on the break, and yet similar, because they were overloading the right. Twice in the first half they launched counter-attacks from Germany set-pieces, with Ezequiel Lavezzi powering forward into the final third from deep positions.
For the second game running, Argentina continually rotated the positions of Lavezzi and Perez, and once again they were always more dangerous when Lavezzi was on the right. It’s strange that Sabella seemed so happy for these players to switch flanks throughout – while that’s not an uncommon tactic with wide players, it’s difficult to think of two more contrasting wide players. Lavezzi is basically a quick forward, Perez a central midfield passer. They inevitably played completely different roles, and against completely different full-backs, Sabella surely should have had a preference about their positioning.
Anyway, Argentina created lots from their right flank in the early stages. Leo Messi drifted out there in the early stages, taking on Mats Hummels for pace, getting around the outside, and sending a decent ball into the box. Later Pablo Zabaleta stormed forward and played a cut-back which bisected two players, and Messi played a lovely ball out to Lavezzi, who crossed for Higuain’s ‘goal’, rightly disallowed for offside. Howedes was becoming overrun, and Ozil wasn’t offering him much protection.
After half an hour, Germany had to change shape. Already without Khedira, now his replacement Kramer departed – and Germany had run out of central midfielders. Low was forced to summon Andre Schurrle from the bench – he went left, and Ozil dropped into a position somewhere between the right of a midfield triangle, and a number ten role, still in roughly a 4-3-3. Schweinsteiger and Kroos had more defensive responsibilities and held their position more.
Schweinsteiger had a tremendous game. He bossed play from his deep-lying role, completing more passes than any other player. He also made a couple of crucial interventions in his own penalty area to guard against Argentina’s early breaks – stopping the aforementioned Messi cut-back, then intercepting when Messi attempted to play the ball right to Lavezzi on the break. He also performed his defensive responsibilities well despite being on a (harsh) booking for over 90 minutes, and the fact both he and Howedes were cautioned after half an hour gave further encouragement to Messi and Lavezzi to dribble in inside-right positions.
Schweinsteiger also helped to nullify Messi in his favoured number ten role. That’s not to say Messi had no influence on the game, but his best moments came either out wide on the right, or when sprinting in behind the defence. Shortly before half-time he received a ball over the top in the inside-right channel, forcing Jerome Boateng into some dramatic last-ditch defending, then at the start of the second half, he sprinted in behind for a one-on-one with Manuel Neuer from the left, pulling his shot wide. These were fine opportunities, but they weren’t Schweinsteiger’s responsibility – he forced Messi away from his favoured zone.
Argentina change shape
At half-time Sabella made a strange change, introducing Sergio Aguero for Lavezzi, and moving to a midfield diamond. This was peculiar for a number of reasons – first, Lavezzi had arguably been the liveliest player. Second, Aguero hasn’t been fit throughout this tournament and wasn’t guaranteed to be capable of running for 75 minutes. Third, it meant Argentina were no longer offering pace down the flank, and their play was instead very central.
The game had broadly the same pattern, though, with Germany dominating and Argentina playing on the break. Germany were still afforded space down their right, with Lahm heavily involved, while Argentina’s breaks were through the middle, with the midfield quartet playing balls for Aguero and Higuain to chase. This rather let Howedes, at left-back and on a booking, off the hook.
When Germany had the ball, Aguero was instructed to get back goalside of him, and prevent him from dictating the play, probably another reason for the switch to a diamond – Messi looked exhausted (and possibly suffering from a hamstring injury after his shot past the far post) and therefore unable to track opponents diligently.
The game became more open and slower in the second half, and it was crying out for a couple of game-changing substitutes. However, both coaches had already turned to their obvious replacement – Schurrle had come on midway through the first half, Aguero at half-time.
It was down to the second attacking replacements towards the end of 90 minutes, and Sabella turned to Rodrigo Palacio (who is essentially in the same mould as Lavezzi: lots of running but inconsistent end product) in place of Higuain.
Sabella’s hand gestures to Palacio shortly before his introduction were hilariously stark – gesturing for him to run back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. In more literal terms, this meant he was instructed to pick up Schweinsteiger, then provide pace in behind the opposition defence. This requirement summed up how exhausted Messi and Aguero were going into extra-time – neither had a burst of pace, and Argentina needed a substitute to both cover behind them defensively, and sprint in advance of them.
Germany sent on Mario Gotze for Miroslav Klose, who was quiet upfront. Gotze started out through the middle, then switched places with Thomas Muller to the right, with Schurrle generally remaining on the left.
Naturally, it was Palacio and Gotze, the two attackers with fresh legs, who had the best two chances in extra-time. Ultimately it came down to the quality of their finishes – Palacio chested down but poked the ball wide with Neuer darting out quickly, while Gotze chested down and lashed the ball into the net to win the World Cup.
Germany had more possession but Argentina had the best chances at 0-0. However, the most shocking statistic is that Argentina failed to manage a shot on target in 120 minutes (see above), despite Higuain’s one-on-one in the first half, Messi’s one-on-one in the second half, and Palacio’s one-on-one in extra-time. Wasteful finishing cost Argentina.
Sabella might wish he’d used his substitutes differently, too. Lavezzi was removed prematurely and left Argentina lacking energy upfront, and by the end of the game Palacio was having to do the running of three men, as Messi and Aguero were so tired. This wasn’t a game for Aguero, a player always extremely restricted when not 100% fit, and it feels like Sabella selected a talented individual at the expense of team shape. The Palacio sub was the best chance of saving the day.
Germany had plenty of possession but didn’t offer anything like as much penetration as in the thrashing of Brazil – partly because Argentina were sitting very deep, and partly because their midfield was disjointed from the start, because of Khedira’s absence. Kramer didn’t have a big impact on the game having been injured early, and the system with Ozil tucking into the midfield trio was a little uneasy. Germany had two great supersubs, though – Schurrle and Gotze, and they combined for the winner. Much like Italy and Spain, the two previous winners of the World Cup, using a variety of attacking threats throughout the competition has proved vital – you need different types of attackers for different challenges.
Germany didn’t bring their best game to the final, but they’ve been the best team over the course of the tournament. In a World Cup where many leading nations relied too heavily upon one particular individual, Germany featured different players stepping up at different moments. Hummels and Kroos were excellent in the previous two games, but when their performance dipped here, Boateng and Schweinsteiger compensated by turning in excellent displays. Other sides didn’t have that ‘luxury’ – although it’s not really a luxury, simply a natural result of not depending upon one man.
Even then, Low took a while to assemble his players in the right format, having used Lahm in midfield throughout the group stage – it’s an unusual XI, from the ultra-modern goalkeeper to the old-fashioned goalpoacher. The most important reason for Germany’s World Cup success is the development of so many talented footballers in the first place, rather than the manner they were used.
Germany 1-0 Argentina (AET): Gotze’s extra-time goal wins the World Cup