For years, Brazilians had a phrase they would inevitably utter when things went wrong. “Imagina na Copa,” they said after an endless traffic jam or a construction accident or an ugly rash of violence dominated the news — imagine if this happened during the World Cup. It became a foreboding warning, a pre-emptive sigh at the presumed disasters that lay ahead.
Over five weeks, though, Brazil avoided any of the major catastrophes it feared. Thrilling games and entertaining soccer — as well as the national team’s own stunning collapse — generally overshadowed any logistical issues, and the tournament was seen as a global success. So it was fitting, then, that in the tournament’s final game, the Brazilians managed to dodge the ultimate on-field nightmare, too.
It could have been calamitous. For Brazilians, the only thing worse than their national team’s losing the trophy would have been for their neighbor Argentina to win it, and that possibility hung heavy over the fans at Estádio do Maracanã on Sunday. But there was no coronation for Lionel Messi and the Argentines, no party for Brazil’s biggest rival. Instead it was Germany, on a gorgeous goal from Mario Götze just minutes before the game would have gone to a shootout, that celebrated its fourth World Cup title with a 1-0 victory after extra time.
The win made Germany the first European team to prevail in a World Cup in the Americas and gave the Germans, who have made it to the knockout stage in 16 consecutive World Cups, their first trophy since 1990.
“We’re going to celebrate for at least five weeks now,” said goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who won the Golden Glove award as the best goalkeeper of the tournament. “At some point, we’ll stop celebrating, but we’ll always keep waking up with a smile.”
How much did Brazilian fans want to see Argentina lose? When Götze scored in the 113th minute, the stadium, which was still filled with plenty of fans in Brazil’s yellow jerseys, erupted. Germany eliminated Brazil from the tournament with a 7-1 rout in the semifinals, but it did not matter; as long as any team but Argentina won, the home fans would be pleased.
The Argentine players and fans, meanwhile, hung their heads. Messi is often praised as the best player in the world, but he has struggled to gain universal acclaim in Argentina, where he will forever be compared with Diego Maradona — who, of course, delivered a World Cup title in 1986. Messi did win the Golden Ball here, an honor that goes to the most valuable player in the tournament and is voted on by a committee of FIFA officials, but it was little comfort. This was seen as Messi’s opportunity to cement his legacy, yet he was never quite sharp enough in what was surely the biggest game of his life.
“Right now, nothing else is important,” Messi said. “All I wanted was to raise the Cup.”
The thrilling finish fit with a tournament that ended up being more about the games than pessimists had predicted. While organizers worried about a repeat of last year’s Confederations Cup, a tournament marred by violent protests, the level of visible vitriol over the past month was relatively low. Even after Brazil’s national team was embarrassed in the semifinal — and lost again in the third-place game Saturday — forecasts of widespread tumult were never realized.