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Germany take command with a template for world domination

Before kick-off in the Maracana the World Cup was officially handed over to Vladimir Putin.

Mario Goetze watches his brilliant strike fly past Sergio Romero to win the World Cup for Germany. Picture: Reuters
Mario Goetze watches his brilliant strike fly past Sergio Romero to win the World Cup for Germany. Picture: Reuters

The ceremony, unseen by most and uncared about by all, marked the passing of the baton from Brazil to Russia as host. Only a man with Putin's soaring ego might believe the World Cup genuinely belongs to him. It is Germany's. They will hold it until 2018, and perhaps they will hold it for longer than that.

Manager Joachim Loew said on the eve of the final that Germany's talent and youth suggested they would dominate international football for years to come, whether they won or lost against Argentina. The claim became all the more convincing in glorious victory. Just when the final was slumbering its way to penalties - Germany would have won a shoot-out anyway, as everyone surely recognises - a kid called Mario Goetze woke up Rio de Janeiro and the world with a stunning goal. What technique, awareness and nerve he showed to take an Andre Schuerrle cross on his chest and adjust himself instantly to slash a volley across goalkeeper Sergio Romero into the net. It was one of the best goals in a month of often glorious football. Even Christ the Redeemer ought to have applauded.

Goetze, a wee, round-faced attacking midfielder, has been hearing that he had not had the best of World Cups. He had scored against Ghana in the group stage but had not made the impact many had expected. So much for that. Goetze, just 22, symbolises the freshness, vitality and energy of a German team which could vindicate Loew's boast in the coming years.

They are young, they are strong in every department, their mentality and fitness are flawless, and they have an insatiable appetite to rule in the way that Spain have done. Phase two starts - gulp - with their opening Euro 2016 qualifier against Scotland in September. They got there last night, exhausted and taken to their limits, after another tense World Cup final. Germany had most of the possession but didn't look like finding a way through an Argentinian defence protected brilliantly by holding midfielder Javier Mascherano.

Lionel Messi did not fire, well-marshalled by the Germans. Occasionally Argentina counter attacked and came close to getting through. But it was a final where the final ball was never quite good enough, or a defender read the attack, or a timely tackle saved the day. The unlikely man of the match was Germany's central defender Jerome Boateng, the Bayern Munich man delivering an exemplary performance on the biggest stage.

Four years ago the final was also settled deep in extra-time. The one before that needed penalties. These showpieces are as tight as a drum skin. This always had the potential to be a clash between two evenly matched, well-coached, intelligent, athletic teams, with the ability to make life extremely difficult for the key men on the other side. At first there was far more ventilation than had been feared. Both sides made chances; through hard work and anticipation both made room for themselves, but after a decent first half the game began to close up like a blooming flower at sunset. Things got untidy, even scrappy, but the prevailing sense was of two equals going toe-to-toe.

It was all about space, players finding it and being denied it. When Thomas Mueller had the ball on the right or Miroslav Klose in the middle they were crowded quickly and suffocated by Argentina defenders.

The story was repeated at the other end, where Messi had one or two Germans constantly within touching distance. Argentina played cute balls to Messi and Gonzalo Higuain but the latter kept getting caught just offside, including when he actually put the ball in the net.

With the second half in its infancy Messi was clean through. The world held its breath. Was this his World Cup final moment? Messi's low shot went across Manuel Neuer and inches outside the far post. Messi's pace burned off Mats Hummels a couple of times but Germany were there to mop up.

As always the epic fixture had its small, personal dramas. Poor Sami Khedira, after a great tournament, suffered the unspeakable horror of being injured in the warm-up for what may be the only World Cup final of his career. He was out. Christoph Kramer, his young replacement, had never started a competitive international before. He lasted half an hour before succumbing to concussion after being clattered by Ezequiel Garay.

And then there were the gruesome misses to be played over in players' minds in perpetuity. Messi's bad miss wasn't the first. Higuain, of all people, mucked up a chance that should have been meat and drink to a striker of his quality. A Toni Kroos passback put him clean through but he pulled his shot wide.

When he was substituted towards the end of normal time it is fair to assume he was playing the miss over in his head with every step towards the touchline. Benedikt Hoewedes came thundering in to crash a header on to the post at a corner just before half-time. Much, much later, in injury time, Rodrigo Palacio was played in for Argentina but tried to hoist the ball over Neuer, hitting it weak and wide.

At the very death, in stoppage time of extra-time, Argentina got a free kick within shooting distance. It was Messi's last chance and that of his country. He ballooned the ball into sky. And soon, higher still, up among the gods, were Germany.

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