In a typically tight, tense and tactical World Cup final, the strategic battle was taking place in the wide zones. Both sides concentrated on attacking down the right, albeit in different ways, with Germany dominating possession and Argentina playing on the break.
Argentina were sitting back and flooding the centre of the pitch, forcing Germany to play the ball out wide. The makeshift left-back Benedikt Höwedes offers little attacking threat – he’s naturally a right-sided centre-back –so Germany continually looked right, encouraging Philipp Lahm to sprint forward and combine with his Bayern team-mate Thomas Müller.
Germany forced good spells of pressure down that side. Lahm crossed dangerously on a couple of occasions, and midway through the first half played an excellent through-ball that found Müller narrowly offside in the centre. A good spell towards the end of the first half also resulted in a couple of corners, the second of which was headed on to the post from point-blank range by Höwedes.
Argentina, too, were offering a threat down their right. The two wide players, Enzo Pérez and Ezequiel Lavezzi, swapped flanks throughout the first half but, like in the semi-final against Holland, they were most dangerous when Lavezzi was on the right, sprinting forward to turn defence into attack.
The secondary threat came from Lionel Messi. Argentina’s No10 drifted towards the right from the early stages, showing some neat touches near the touchline and racing past Mats Hummels on the outside, before playing a neat cut-back which was intercepted by Bastian Schweinsteiger with two men lurking. Others took advantage of the space down that side, too: Pablo Zabaleta stormed forward to play a cut-back which bisected two Argentina forward, and later Messi played a lovely ball out to Lavezzi, unmarked on the flank, and his cross led to Gonzalo Higuaín’s fine finish, which was correctly ruled out for offside.
This pattern of the game was only exaggerated once Argentina switched to a diamond at half-time, and Alejandro Sabella put on Sergio Agüero for Lavezzi. Now, even more, Argentina encouraged Germany to attack down the flanks but Sabella’s side had the more promising moments. Again, everything went down the right: Higuaín was flagged offside early in the second half, Manuel Neuer pole-axed the Argentina striker when sweeping into his left-back position, and Messi later curled a ball past the far post from his trademark inside-right position.
The game was crying out for a late, game-changing substitution but if anything both managers had already played their joker: André Schürrle had replaced the injured Christoph Kramer midway through the first half, Agüero had been introduced at half-time.
By extra time it was more about tiredness than tactics and it was no coincidence the game’s final two attacking substitutes had the best two chances. It was simply about composure: Rodrigo Palacio chested down and prodded wide of the post but Mario Götze chested down and fired home.