Blood, Sweat and Tears Team Spirit Leads Germany to 1-0 World Cup Win
Sunday's German World Cup win was no fluke, but a hard-won victory and a triumph of team spirit, best embodied by the indelible image of Bastian Schweinsteiger's bloody facial wound.
Again and again the words "Unbelievable! A dream!" were uttered on Sunday night after Germany scored a 1:0 victory over Argentina in its fourth-ever World Cup victory at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Although Germany had a good chance of winning going into the match, the victory still proved to be a harrowing.
"What an incredibly beautiful day," one player after the other bellowed after the match ended. "Germany prevails in a battle of titans," wrote the Wall Street Journal. Even the British had praise for the German national team win, with the Guardian writing, "After so many years of commanding respect, the nation should rejoice that its football is finally recognized as beautiful."
After the final whistle, German players, including midfielder Mesut Özil, defender Per Mertesacker, midfielder Erik Durm, and goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller, led by fellow goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, marched together shouting, "We're No. 1" and screaming "campeones," Spanish for champions, over and over again.
"This is the product of 10 years of hard work," said national coach Joachim Löw. "The team has constantly improved over the years ... the players exceeded their boundaries and gave more than they ever have before ... I told Mario Götze: 'Show the world that you're better than Messi'."
Sunday's game was nerve-rattling, energy sapping and ultimately very hard-fought. Despite the dearth of goals, there was never a dull moment for the 74,000 spectators inside Maracanã Stadium and the match proved worthy of a World Cup final.
The Germans and the Argentinians played passionately, but nervousness led to a number of mistakes on the German side. As expected, the Argentinian team focused on the defensive, but star player Lionel Messi got control of the ball more often than usual. At one point, forward Gonzalo Higuaín also got dangerously close to scoring a goal against Neuer, the German goalkeeper. But the German team also seemed cohesive and possessed the ball more than the Argentinians.
The intense battle wore down the players, especially on the German side. After the game, German player Mats Hummels teetered back to the team bus. Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger was visibly tired, limping to the top of the winner's rostrum, where he conceded, "That was a major fight today -- my legs are dead." At the end, he stood there, wrapped in a German flag with a visible laceration beneath his right eye, looking exhausted.
Schweinsteiger's wound, the result of being struck by Argentinian player Sergio Agüero, became the symbol of Sunday night's triumph: A sign that the German national team had gone beyond their pain threshold to secure this win, fighting for a goal even in the last minutes of the game when it appeared it would have to end in a penalty shoot-out.
"It's unbelievable what we achieved today, the 120 minutes in which we ploughed together as a team," Captain Philipp Lahm said, summing up the game. That was the overall message coming from the team on Sunday night, the feeling that the team performed as strongly as it did because motivated and well-prepared players were frequently brought from the bench. And also because those players who didn't have a chance to play channeled their energy into rooting for the team.
"It doesn't matter at all whether we have the best individual players or not," said Lahm, "you have to have the best team." Meanwhile, goalkeeper Neuer added: "We had unbelievable coherence, even during the preparations when we had a few setbacks and lost players like (midfielder) Lars Bender or (midfielder) Marco Reus, who are also world champions."
That closeness was on display in the stands just after the game ended. Neuer, a former player with FC Schalke of Gelsenkirchen, could be seen holding up a German flag together with player Kevin Grosskreutz of rival team FC BVB in neighboring Dortmund. The two former archrivals from the Ruhr region danced together as they celebrated their joint victory on the national team. Only five weeks ago, a scene like that would have been unimaginable.
Yet despite very unhappy and difficult World Cup preparations at a camp in South Tyrol, which included injuries and ruffled feathers, a true sense of team spirit seemed to develop at this tournament -- in contrast to the mood at the 2012 European Championships.
Götze, who scored the winning goal, admitted that this tournament hadn't been an easy one for him. After the first two group games, Coach Joachim Löw had no longer included him in the lineup, but he managed to overcome his personal frustration in pursuit of the greater goal. When it comes to team-building, that's what matters.
The poise demonstrated by German midfielder Sami Khedira, who had to withdraw just before the start of the final because of a calf injury, was also characteristic of the night. Wolfgang Niersbach, president of the German Football Association (DFB), praised him for acting as a "secondary coach" from the sidelines -- in the sense that, even though Khedira must have been tremendously disappointed not to be able to play, it was impressive to see him shouting directions and providing helpful gestures from the sidelines to his fellow players on the field. It almost felt like he was a part of the game.
It's just that kind of cohesion that contributed to Germany's win in Rio on Sunday night.