In the end, it was Germany. It was always Germany, at this World Cup, ever since they smashed Portugal to pieces 4-0 in their first group game. There were stutters - a surprising draw against Ghana, extra time needed to get past Algeria - but the enduring memory of this World Cup will be the ten-minute blitzkrieg that the Germans loosed on Brazil in the semifinal.
It ended up taking them 113 minutes to break through against Argentina, surprising given the flow of the game. The Argentines were again content to rely on their defense and the occasional counterattacking parrying thrust, not a bad ploy when your weapon is Lionel Messi. Germany hit the post and goofed up several other good chances, a sign of nerves that hadn't been there all tournament for the country most known by the phrase "ruthlessly efficient," but Mario Gotze's goal - astonishingly good - was always on its way. Argentina had the ball in the net from an offside Gonzalo Higuain in the first half, but otherwise did not manage to place a single shot on goal in the entire game. Germany had two-thirds of the possession, and completed 716 passes to Argentina's 436; it's safe to say that the better team won this game.
Here are the things we will remember most about the World Cup that was - besides that astonishing 7-1 Germany win over Brazil in the semifinals, which four years from now will be the only thing that most of us remember:
- Robin Van Persie's soaring diving header against Spain - the first of five Netherlands goals against the defending champions, and the moment that marked the end of the road for the team that had won seemingly every tournament it had entered for more than half a decade.
- The cavalier joy of Colombia's James Rodriguez, who led the tournament with six goals - and who in the process touched off six excellent group-dance celebrations, taught everyone that his name is pronounced with a soft beginning 'j', and scored the tournament's best goal. He was the World Cup's breakout player on the World Cup's breakout team, and there are more than a few people who will be picking Colombia four years from now.
- Costa Rica winning a penalty shootout against Greece in the first knockout round, the crowning moment for the only underdog in the quarterfinals. Los Ticos surprised us all by beating Uruguay and Italy and winning group D; it was their most successful World Cup ever.
- Luis Suarez cementing his hard-won status as the most hated man in soccer. Biting? Again? Really?
Of course, for us American fans, that's a list that's missing more than a few moments. We'll remember Clint Dempsey's dream start against Ghana. We'll remember John Brooks's holy-crap-what-did-I-just-do goal celebration after scoring the game-winner in the same game. We'll remember Jermaine Jones being a wrecking ball for the entire tournament, and scoring an astonishing goal against Portugal; we'll remember the knife in the heart as Portugal scored in the final seconds. We'll remember the absurdity of cheering for a 1-0 loss to Germany, and the wonder of everything Tim Howard did against Belgium, hauling the USA into a game they didn't belong in.
And now, we wait four more years.
We're headed to Russia, next time around, and the Russians have five or six stadiums to build, so you can expect a repeat of the coverage that led up the Sochi Olympics. Expect terrible cost overruns and delayed construction schedules, and funny pictures of missing seats or dual toilets, all of which will be completely forgotten once soccer starts.
Depending on the host city, the games will be between eight hours and eleven hours ahead of Central time, so you can also prepare yourself for plenty of morning starts, as fans. A 7pm game in Moscow would start at 10am, here; a noon game in Yekaterinburg would begin at 1am our time. I suggest just planning ahead and taking all of June 2018 off of work.
Goodbye, World Cup. Come back, World Cup. Until we meet again, you will be missed.
One final World Cup aside: Below are the picks that Star Tribune columnist Michael Rand, Minnesota United head coach Manny Lagos, and I made before the World Cup began. This is from the June 12 edition of the Star Tribune. I post it, of course, because I nailed everything but the number of goals that Germany scored in the final. Feeling pretty good about this, of course.