Bravo Germany, the new World Cup champions, and Brazil for a great show
Germany won the World Cup. Host Brazil won a world of new friends.
The now four-time champions, the first European team to win the World Cup on Latin American soil, earned the honor of lifting the most recognized trophy in sports with a tooth-and-nail 1-0 victory in a final as terrifically entertaining as the tournament itself.
For a 32-day showcase of football at its best, the winning goal was beautifully appropriate. Mario Goetze controlled the ball with his chest and then volleyed it into the Argentine goal, making difficult skills look so simple. Scored in the 113th minute, the mortal blow left Argentina too little time to recover.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, sitting in the VIP section, waved a clenched fist as Goetze celebrated. When referee Nicola Rizzoli blew the final whistle a few minutes later, Vladimir Putin reached across and shook Merkel's hand. The Russian president's country hosts the next World Cup in 2018.
Another delighted German in the crowd was International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who'll be keeping a close eye on Brazil's next big organizational challenge: readying Rio de Janeiro for the Summer Games in 2016.
Sepp Blatter, president of World Cup organizer FIFA, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff embraced as Germany's players went crazy with joy and Argentina's wept.
One of the ironies of this World Cup is that even though the tournament will be remembered as a resounding success, it was a headache for Rousseff and Blatter to the end.
As they handed over the 18-carat gold trophy to Germany captain Philipp Lahm, the Maracana Stadium echoed with an insulting chant aimed at the Brazilian president. There were resounding boos, too, when she was shown shaking the hand of losing coach Alejandro Sabella. Such protests were also heard at other stadiums during the tournament, demonstrating how the party atmosphere was a thin veneer for grave public misgivings about $13 billion of spending on cup preparations.
As sunset-pink clouds made way for night, and the teams treated the watching world to 30 minutes of extra time because they were still scoreless after 90 minutes, the iconic Maracana bathed in light looked like a spaceship landed between the hills, high-rises and favelas of Rio.
The 74,738 fans had a ball, especially Germans and Brazilians who didn't want Argentina, their neighbor and fiercest football rival, to win a third world title.
They drowned out the Argentine fans' tireless, jaunty singing with piercing whistles and shouted "Ole!" when Germany players' had the ball, weaving their game of intricate passing. Fireworks ripped the skies to celebrate Germany's first World Cup title as a unified nation, having won as West Germany in 1954, 1974 and 1990.
In once-divided Berlin, a monster crowd said by authorities to be a quarter-million strong crammed in front of giant TV screens near the German capital's famous Brandenburg Gate.
"At some point we'll stop celebrating but we'll still wake up with a smile," said Germany's Manuel Neuer, voted the tournament's best goalkeeper.
The biggest game in football attracted a good sprinkling of celebrities. David Beckham hugged Pele. Supermodel Gisele Bundchen snuggled with her husband, NFL star Tom Brady. Rolling Stones front-man Mick Jagger was there, too.
Even with tiring legs as they played into extra time, the two exquisitely matched teams gave and sought no quarter.
Germany brought brawn, its accurate passing and quick movement and tireless determination to attack and attack again. Argentina responded with bruising defense and craftiness and could have won had its players not wasted chances.
The inability of Lionel Messi, Argentina's four-time world player of the year, to stave off this defeat will renew debate about where he fits in football pantheons of greats.
Messi looked flabbergasted when he shot wide of Neuer's goal early in the second half, wasting a chance that had it gone in would have strengthened arguments that he is equal to Diego Maradona, who led Argentina to its last win in 1986.
For the highest stakes in football, players bruised body and soul. German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger was carrying a cut under his right eye as he walked up with his teammates to collect the trophy.
Midfielder Christoph Kramer played on for 14 minutes with a suspected concussion before he was replaced by Andre Schuerrle. It was Schuerrle who provided the cross that Goetze controlled so magically. Kramer's head injury was the last in a series at this World Cup that will put pressure on football to better protect players from concussion.
Tens of thousands of Argentines descended on Rio, camping out and driving in convoys to be in the party city for the final, their blue and white jerseys mirroring the colors of the puffy-cloud skies when the game kicked off, watched by hundreds of millions around the globe.
In Buenos Aires, fans climbed lamp posts to peer over a crowd of 20,000 people living the drama on a giant screen. Argentines too young to remember their nation's last victory in 1986 were devastated that they must again put their hopes on hold. And at the next World Cup, Messi won't be in his prime as he is now.
"I feel an enormous sadness," said 19-year-old Soledad Canelas, carrying a blue-and-white Argentine flag.
For many Brazilians, Argentina losing was the best possible outcome — other than Brazil winning itself. Many Brazilians transferred their loyalties to Germany even after it crushed their team 7-1 in the semifinals.
Although Brazil fared less well than expected on the pitch, it performed far better than many expected off it.
The tournament spread across 12 cities in South America's largest country passed without logistical disasters for the 32 teams and hundreds of thousands of traveling fans.
There also was no repeat of giant public protests that unsettled last year's warm-up tournament, the Confederations Cup. Heavy police security around venues dissuaded dissent.
But broken promises of new subway lines and other life-improving infrastructure to accompany the 12 all-new or renovated stadiums reflected poorly on Brazil's bureaucracy, as did accusations that corrupt public servants skimmed off funds. An unfinished overpass collapsed, killing two people, in the host city of Belo Horizonte.
And the largely white and seemingly well-off stadium crowds reflected Brazil's stark economic inequalities. This was a World Cup that Brazil's black and mixed-race poorer citizens mostly saw from afar on television.