The Brazil 2014 World Cup has come to an end but the stories of the the exploits of key players and teams will continue for years to come. It is no longer news that the German National team “Die Mannschaft” are the current World Champions after overcoming Argentina in a gritty 120 minutes of football. In a game of little margins, the much vaunted team ethos of the German side was the vital ingredient that separated them from the Argentine side, who paraded superior individual talents.
Led by the four time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner; Lionel Messi, the Argentine team was brimming with talents like Sergio Aguero, Higuain, Lavezzi, Angel Di Maria, Mascherano while the German team was built around a crop of young players who had developed together with their brand of quick passing game and moulded with vastly experienced campaigners like Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Podolski, Mertesacker and Klose.
At the Maracana, in a game that could have voided any doubts about Messi’s status as a football great, the Argentine superstar who scored the goals that took his team to the knockout rounds, struggled to wield his influence on the game. He looked jaded and could not pull off any of those magical, extra terrestrial moments that have dotted his career as his team mates sought him out with passes and waited for something special, which never came. It was a dismal sight to watch him balloon his free kick into the stands, at the closing moments of extra time to extinguish the dimming hopes of an entire Nation. Though he was inexplicably adjudged the best player of the tournament and awarded the Golden Ball, his display in the final provided ample ammunition to puncture the mantra that: superstars win you games.
On the other hand, throughout the German squad, story lines abound of the team maxim that: everyone is important and nobody is expendable. There were the super subs; Gotze and Schurrle, midfielders that fought through injuries; Schweinsteiger and Khedira and versatile defenders that played out of position; Boateng and Howedes.
Mario Gotze, who had started just two games in the World Cup and had played only eight minutes in the quarterfinal and semifinal, rose from the bench to win it for Germany with a maginicent finish, deep into extra time. His control, turn and strike were delivered with finesse and brought the perfect ending to a remarkable tournament. Reports were to emerge later that at the half time of extra time, Joachim Low, their amiable coach, had singled him out and delivered the motivational words; “OK, show the world you are better than Messi and can decide the World Cup.”
Andre Schurrle, the man whose daring run, tore up the Argentine defence for that sumptuous cross to Gotze. He never started a game in the World Cup finals but always relished the opportunity to come into the fray, late on and stretch defences with his searing pace. For the final game, he was thrust into action as early as the 31st minute, when the concussed Christoph Kramer had to be substituted after a clash with Argentina’s Ezequiel Garay. Though the eager Schurrle didn’t get to increase his tally of three goals, his appetite ensured he took on the tiring Argentine defence and successfully delivered the vital assist.
Bastian Schweinsteiger had to assume more responsibilities in the final, when Sami Khedira, the man that so wrecked havoc in midfield against Brazil went down with a calf injury in the warm up. A key member of this German team, Schweinsteiger had seen his influence wane due to niggling injuries. Having missed out of their first game, he came on as a substitute in the difficult game against Ghana and staked his claim for a spot in the team, going on to play the game of his life in the final. In that game, he epitomised the spirit of the German side with his warrior-like display, winning numerous challenges, breaking up play, accurately distributing the ball and clocking up 15.3km as he patrolled the midfield. Bloodied and abruptly patched up, he soldiered on, picking up himself again and again to retain his impregnable hold on the game.
Khedira himself, recovered from a six months layoff after a serious knee injury in time to claim his place in the team. The classic midfield workhorse, his tireless tackling and running proved vital for the team despite concerns about his lack of match practice. He proved the skeptics wrong with his sterling performances, especially in the semi final win over Brazil, where he along with Toni Kroos, were the twin pistons firing Germany’s engine. His Coach’s comments when he was included in the squad sums up the player; “We believe that he has positive perspective. He owes it to his will, his discipline and his determination.”
Jerome Boateng was influential in Germany’s triumph, shuttling from right-back to centre-half in the tournament as the team took full advantage of his versatility. He was superb in the final, as he pulled off goal-line clearances and snuffed out danger, at will. Benedikt Howedes, the makeshift left-back was labelled the weak link of the team. With the odds stacked against him, he kept his head and played every single minute of the campaign, brilliantly sticking to his task without being too elaborate. Per Mertesacker, the gentle giant, suffered in some games for his lack of pace, but his calming influence and positional play was crucial in shoring up the defence in the injury induced absences of the imperious Hummels.
The input of these players proved as pivotal as that of the mainstay of the team; players like Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Mats Hummels, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and the record breaking; Miroslav Klose, who are first on the team sheet. Perhaps, that was why it was difficult for the FIFA’s Technical Study Group to find an individual in the rank of the Germans, worthy of the Golden Ball.
Germany’s run to the trophy was not smooth as their title credentials were questioned and thoroughly tested in a number of games but they always found a way to win, with different people contributing in different circumstances. Vital goals, assists, tackles and other contributions were made by peripheral figures who when needed, slotted in as another cog in the wheel, with the team’s rhythm unbroken. The coach and players trusted every team member to step up and deliver as they matched towards the achievement of their team goal. The inscription on their team bus; “Ein Land, eine Mannschaft, ein Traum” (One country, one team, one dream) pointing to the clear goal and spirit of the side.
In his remarks as they celebrated their fourth World Cup trophy, Joachim Low succinctly attributed their success to their team spirit; “We showed the best performances for seven matches of all the teams in this tournament, but we’re looking back over 10 years of preparation and hard work. This team has developed a spirit which is unbelievable.”
Die Mannschaft’s success has brought to the fore an enduring lesson on the essence and upshot of a committed team. I’ll end with an apt quote from the American Poet; Mattie J.T. Stepanek: “Unity is strength. When there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”