Calmly edging past the edgy!

Argentina, despite persistent German ball-hogging, had more opportunities. But their highly-paid retinue of strikers failed to find the clinical final touch, clearly afflicted by nerves. The Germans, however, had not lost the age-old national knack of a calm and composed mind and unsurprisingly victory was theirs, writes Ayon Sengupta.

Football, the game of the world, though not an issue of life and death — no matter what Bill Shankly wants us to believe — leaves no one unaffected. Hours away from the 2014 World Cup final, two friends — not round-the-year manic football fans — found different reasons to support the two finalists.

While the journalist was bowled over by the looks of Jogi Loew, the marketing man was singing the virtues of Lionel Messi, one of the very few footballers he knows.

In Kolkata, too — miles and miles away from Brasilia, Buenos Aires or Berlin — the football capital of footballing minnow, India, allegiance was fiercely divided. Flock-loads stayed awake to cry hoarse for the La Albiceleste, goading Messi to equal the heights reached by the original God, Diego Maradona. An equally high number, however, supported the Mannschaft — Diego’s nemesis — though very many of them were spurned Brazilian followers. The neo converts were there too, still dazed and impressed by Germany’s 7-1 semi-final demolition of the host.

A gruelling battle later, Loew, that tanned brooding man, devoid of touchline theatrics — an aberration among managers — clearly was the happier man, as Christ the Redeemer switched nationalities for a night in Rio de Janeiro.

Germany, known to be a nation of fighters, weathered the Messi-led Argentine mini-storm and snitched the all-important winner, 113 minutes down. This new-age, new-look Germany — unlike its no-nonsense predecessors — enjoyed better possession count (60 percent), played more artful football, yet created very little goal-scoring chances. Argentina, despite persistent German ball-hogging, had more opportunities. But their highly-paid retinue of strikers failed to find the clinical final touch — clearly afflicted by nerves, which often tags along for such big occasions.

The Germans, however, had not lost the age-old national knack of a calm and composed mind and unsurprisingly victory was theirs. The adage, “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win,” made popular in the early 90s, came true again, more than 20 long years later — after 120 minutes, this time.

Mario Gotze, the 22-year-old substitute, a baby-faced talent of great potential, controlled and finished with two superlative touches a spectacular German raid and promptly replaced religious leaders and statesmen alike, as the most trending name on social networks. A finished product from the Deutscher Fussball-Bund, the Bayern Munich inside-forward is one of the 14 players in the current squad, who has directly benefitted from the DFB’s reorganisation of German football in the early years of the present century. Six of them were also part of Germany’s 2009 under-21 EURO winning squad, marking the culmination of an extraordinary progression.

The football evolution, carried out with typical methodical precision, completely restructured the youth development programme after the national squad’s dismal performance in EURO 2000. The DFB, the Bundesliga and the clubs put greater emphasis on the development of more technically nuanced home-grown players and this led to the creation of almost identical academies (all trying to produce nimble, dexterous players capable of playing in any fluid formation) right across the country’s top two divisions.

A separate talent expansion initiative, overseen by 1000 UEFA B-license-holding DFB coaches, covers 366 areas in Germany, catering to children between eight to 14 years, who often are also involved with the larger club structures. The 26 eligible Germans, part of the 2013 all-German Champions League final, vouch for the early assistance offered by this programme. The country actually has 28,400 B-license holders, 5,500 with A and 1,070 with the Pro degree, the highest in the world, making it easier to lay the correct emphasis on technique and style from early on.

“I am hoping for a supremacy born out of competence and no need for luck,” a Germany-based acquaintance said earlier, and as the 2014 World Cup drew to a close with the dust firmly settling on tiki-taka football, the Germans have indeed established an efficient football model, which Miroslav Klose has rightly described as a “super blend” of “aesthetics” with “uber-efficiency.”

The Argentines too had symmetry with six players from the 2005 under-20 World Cup winning side taking part in the final. But the tumultuous Maradona and Sergio Batista reigns — following the departure of Jose Pekerman, the former Argentine youth coach, after the 2006 quarterfinals defeat to Germany — nullified the good work of the youth setup. The anarchy and the subsequent disillusionment even forced defender Gabriel Paletta to opt for the Italian national team at the senior level.

Manager Alejandro Sabella, who took over during an international friendly against Venezuela in Kolkata in 2011, bought back the much needed stability and was admired by all for drilling out a tactically-efficient unit for this World Cup. The Argentine defence, a cause of worry ahead of the Mundial, didn’t concede for 486 minutes, till that cruel blow in the extra-time minutes of the final. But the record-breaking Lionel Messi failed to re-enact the inspirational Diego Maradona one-man act.

And the Cup ended in tears for the 41-million strong Argentine population, much like for the supporters of 30 more nations. The Germans — buoyed by the prayers of the united nation (they won as West Germany the previous three occasions) — had a lot to cheer about. Even the stern Jogi Loew would have had enough reasons to bear-hug the journalist, for her vocal support from many seas far, had she been there.