In case you’re curious, the title of this post should give away who won the World Cup championship match earlier today.
The title is German for “World Champions”.
Germany took its fourth title, defeating Argentina 1-0 in extra time in Rio de Janeiro. The only goal was scored in the 113th minute, the eighth minute of the second extra 15-minute period, when German substitute Mario Kotze took a perfect pass from Andre Schurrle in the penalty area, and rocketed home a left-footed shot past Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
Kotze became the first substitute in World Cup history to score a goal in extra time in a championship match. While this may seem like a significant accomplishment, and it is, it’s important to remember (a) only six World Cup championship matches out of 19 have reached extra time, and (b) substitutes were not allowed in the World Cup until 1970. The 1962 and 1966 matches went to extra time, meaning the 11 players on each side had to play the full 120 minutes. If someone got injured, tough luck, you’re playing short-handed, as if someone got sent off with a red card. Two substitutes per match were allowed starting in 1970, and extended to three in 1998.
I was glad Germany won. I have never liked Argentina, largely because it has been mostly ruled by a repressive military junta, it has not been the friendliest nation to the United States it tried to take the Falkland Islands by unprovoked force in 1982 until Great Britain came in and saved the day, and Diego Maradona, the star of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup championship team, was a doper and used his fist to score a goal in a 1986 match vs. England. Maradona’s goal in that match was called the “Hand of God” goal, one which became one of the most egregious missed calls in the history of sport–and that came less than a year after Don Denkinger’s missed call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series in Kansas City.
I was even more glad the championship match did not go to a shootout. A shootout is a terrible way to determine a champion, especially the champion of a tournament as grueling as the World Cup, where nations pour four years of blood, sweat and tears into qualifying before having to survive seven matches in the final tournament to claim the grand prize.
No World Cup championship match before 1986, the first time the shootout was prescribed for the final tie if the score was level after 120 minutes, was level after 120 minutes; therefore, the spectre of a replay was never realized. That’s right–if a World Cup championship match was tied after 120 minutes from 1930 through 1982, the match was to be played over from scratch. The shootout was first approved for use in the World Cup in 1982 in all rounds prior to the final.
Italy has been involved in both World Cup championship matches to go to a shootout. The Azzuri lost in 1994 to Brazil at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, but in 2006, it got redemption by ousting France in Berlin.
The 1934 and 1938 tournaments were straight knockout single elimination. In the 1938 tournament, three matches prior to the final were level after extra time and had to be replayed in their entirety. Beginning in 1954 and continuing through 1970, if a knockout stage match prior to the final was level, the winner would be determined by a coin toss, the only way worse to determine a winner than a shootout.
The 1974 and 1978 tournaments did not feature a knockout stage. The top two teams in each of four groups then advanced to another group stage. After the second group stage, the top team in each group would play for the championship, and the second place team in each group would play for third place.
I understand FIFA is scared to death that a match may go on forever if the shootout were not used past 120 minutes, but what are the odds of that happening, even in a sport as low-scoring as soccer? The NHL plays full 20-minute overtime periods in all playoff games until a winner is determined. The NFL plays full 15-minute periods, although only one in regular season games. I would like to see 15-minute periods played until a winner is determined, but if FIFA is worried to death about an indeterminate game, make it sudden death after 30 minutes of extra time. I would venture to guess most games would be determined with one or two more periods of extra time past 30 minutes.
Estimates were seven million Americans watched the World Cup final. Of those 7 million, 6,999,000 will not care about MLS going forward, and will not watch association football again until it’s time for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.