Mario Götze celebrates with the World Cup trophy after scoring the winner for Germany in the 2014 final against Argentina. - © imago sportfotodienst/imago/ActionPictures
Mario Götze celebrates with the World Cup trophy after scoring the winner for Germany in the 2014 final against Argentina. - © imago sportfotodienst/imago/ActionPictures
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When Mario Götze and Germany won the 2014 FIFA World Cup

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On 13 July 2014, Mario Götze wrote his name into the history books. His extra-time winner against Argentina in the FIFA World Cup final means he will always remembered for making Germany world champions for a fourth time. bundesliga.com tells the remarkable story of that tournament…

Before Philipp Lahm in 2014, Lothar Mätthaus had been the last German captain to get his hands on the World Cup trophy, lifting it in Rome after a 1-0 win over Argentina in the 1990 final. Jürgen Klinsmann then hoisted UEFA Euro 96 silverware aloft in England, after Oliver Bierhoff’s golden goal led his injury-ravaged team past the Czech Republic at Wembley.

Germany managed to reach the World Cup final in 2002, after which their wait for glory became more and more frustrating. Euro 1996 skipper Klinsmann was head coach when they were edged out by Italy in the 2006 World Cup semi-finals on home soil, and his assistant Joachim Löw took over only for his side to lose 1-0 against Spain in the Euro 2008 decider.

Joachim Löw (l.) during his time as Jürgen Klinsmann's (r.) assistant, pictured at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. - imago sportfotodienst/imago/Laci Perenyi

Spain again accounted for Löw’s side in the last four of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, while Italy won by the odd goal in three at the same stage of Euro 2012. Most countries could only dream of finishing runners-up twice and placing third three times within six tournaments, but for Germany that wasn’t enough. The pressure was on a golden generation of players when they travelled to South America in the summer of 2014.

The road to Brazil

Qualifying had been a breeze for Germany as they won nine games and drew one in their section. However, the one match they dropped points in - coming four days after they thrashed the Republic of Ireland 6-1 in Dublin - gave pause for thought. Leading 4-0 against Sweden in Berlin in October 2012, Löw’s side somehow managed to concede four times in the final 30 minutes. The return match was just as entertaining a year later when Germany won 5-3 in Sweden.

Coming into the tournament itself, though, Löw had serious injury concerns. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer hurt his shoulder in the DFB Cup final, captain Lahm was struggling, Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira was not long back from a cruciate ligament injury and fellow midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger had tendon trouble. Worse than that, though, was the loss of Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder Marco Reus. He had been in brilliant form but was ruled out of the tournament after suffering an ankle injury in Germany’s last friendly before it.

Watch: The best of Marco Reus in the Bundesliga

The group stage: Germany 4-0 Portugal, Germany 2-2 Ghana, Germany 1-0 USA

If there were nerves in the German camp, though, they didn’t show in their first Group G encounter against Portugal in Salvador. Neuer and Lahm recovered in time, with the latter player - one of the best full-backs of all-time - operating in central midfield like he had done under Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich that season. The defence was made up of four centre-backs, with Benedikt Höwedes and Jerome Boateng filling in at right-back and left-back either side of Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker.

Germany got their tournament off to a flyer. Thomas Müller scored an early penalty, added to by a Hummels header on 32 minutes. Pepe was then sent off as Portugal struggled to cope with a dynamic front three of Götze, Müller and Mesut Özil. Bayern attacker Müller completed a 4-0 rout with further goals either side of the break.

“I’ve been involved in the last three major tournaments so I’m used to the pressure,” said the the 2010 World Cup Golden Boot winner as leading goalscorer. “But to score three goals in one game - that’s pretty amazing. And the goals just got better and better.”

Müller turned provider for Götze in the second game, as his then-Bayern teammate bundled home the opener against Ghana six minutes after half-time. The African nation - who had Jerome’s half-brother Kevin-Prince Boateng in their team - came roaring back to lead 2-1. Substitute Miroslav Klose salvaged a valuable point for Germany in Fortaleza, though, with the 36-year-old Lazio forward joining Pele and Uwe Seeler as the only player to have scored in four World Cups.

Thomas Müller was on fire for Germany against Portugal. - Phil Walter/Getty Images

That meant Germany went into the final group game in Recife - against a USA side coached by Klinsmann - needing just a point to make the last 16. Müller ensured they got all three, sweeping home from the edge of the area with a wonderful controlled finish. Schweinsteiger made his first start of the tournament in that match, and the Bayern midfielder was superb in a dominant midfield triumvirate with Lahm and Toni Kroos to seal Germany’s passage as group winners.

“We are ready for the knockout stage,” said Müller afterwards. “We keep working hard and we're full of team spirit.”

The last 16: Germany 2-1 Algeria (after extra-time)

Germany’s work rate and character were both tested in their round of 16 game in Porto Alegre. Up against surprise package Algeria, Löw’s team were given a real scare. They didn’t start well in a game in which Neuer cemented his reputation as a sweeper-keeper. By racing out of his goal to cut out Algerian counter-attacks, he allowed his team to play an attacking but risky high line in defence. The Bayern keeper had, Löw said afterwards, played like an outfield player.

In the end half-time substitute Andre Schürrle flicked home smartly two minutes into extra-time, and Özil got another before the game was almost up. Algeria pulled a goal back even later but their brave effort came up short.

“It was a victory of willpower,” Löw admitted. “We didn’t play well in the first half - we had major problems - but the important thing was that we got through.”

Watch: Manuel Neuer, sweeper-keeper extraordinaire

The quarter-final: Germany 1-0 France  

A mouthwatering tie awaited in the last eight, played out in thirst-inducing conditions in Rio de Janeiro. West Germany had twice beaten France in World Cup semi-finals in the 1980s, but Germany’s preparations for this game were disrupted by illness to seven players.

Lahm was switched to right-back with Mertesacker making way, and Hummels - who had missed the Algeria game with a cold - got the only goal on 13 minutes when he rose above Raphael Varane to meet a Kroos free-kick.

Germany’s experience showed from there but, in a tight encounter, Neuer was required to make a sharp save from Mathieu Valbuena in the first half and from Karim Benzema in stoppage time.

With victory over their old rivals, though, Germany became the first country ever to reach four consecutive World Cup semi-finals.

“We are playing the kind of football that gives us a chance to win the World Cup,” Hummels declared after the final whistle. “You can’t always score two more goals and than your opponent, so you have to defend properly.”

Mats Hummels celebrates his goal that floored Hugo Lloris and France in Brazil. - CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP via Getty Images

The semi-final: Germany 7-1 Brazil

It was Germany’s attack that stood out in Belo Horizonte in what was a semi-final like no other. Missing suspended captain Thiago Silva and key attacker Neymar, Brazil were blown away by the same German XI that started the quarter-final.

Müller got the ball rolling for Germany after 11 minutes in one of the most remarkable football matches ever played. Twelve minutes later Klose became the record goalscorer in World Cup history with his 16th career goal in the competition, although that achievement was nearly forgotten about because of what happened next.

After 29 minutes it was 5-0, with a double from Kroos and another strike from Khedira adding to Brazil’s woes. Schürrle came off the bench to get two more in the second half before Oscar got the hosts on the scoresheet in the last minute.

It was Brazil’s heaviest defeat as well as the first time that any side had scored seven in a World Cup semi-final.

“The Germans played like Brazilians today,” said a crestfallen Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.

A result for the ages: Germany's astonishing semi-final victory over host nation Brazil. - imago sportfotodienst/imago/AFLOSPORT

Majestic Bayern midfielder Kroos was named man of the match, while Müller urged caution after the “totally crazy” result.

“We let ourselves get carried away,” he said. “Just as it was said that we were finished after the Algeria game, now we’ll praised to the heavens. We haven’t reached our goal yet.”

The final: Germany 1-0 Argentina (after extra-time)

Coming down from the high of the semi-final - and even processing such a stunning result - was easier said than done. Argentina had needed 120 minutes and penalties to get past the Netherlands in the last four, but - with Lionel Messi leading the way - they were a daunting opponent in the final.

Things started to go wrong for Germany shortly before kick-off at the Maracana in Rio. Löw had named the same XI again, but Khedira felt a twinge in his calf in the warm-up and was replaced by Christoph Kramer.

Christoph Kramer is helped off the pitch by Germany's medical staff in the final. - CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP via Getty Images

The Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder’s first competitive game for his country would prove eventful. He was struck in the head after 17 minutes and eventually taken off just past the half hour. As referee Nicola Rizzoli later revealed, Kramer was hastily replaced by Schürrle after asking the official if he was really playing in the World Cup final.

Germany had enjoyed the bulk of possession in the early stages but Gonzalo Higuain missed a golden chance for Argentina before having a goal ruled out for offside. Schalke defender Höwedes then thumped a header off the post at the other end just before the interval.

In the second half Messi flashed a shot inches wide, but chances were at a premium as the game went into extra-time.

Then, 113 minutes in, came the moment that over a billion people around the world had been tuning in for. The goal that won the World Cup arrived when Schürrle took a run down the left and found Götze with his cross from the wing. The 22-year-old Bayern player still had plenty to accomplish, but he did it superbly. Chesting the ball down to the edge of the six-yard box, he thrashed home a left-footed volley across goal from a tight angle.

Sent on in the 88th minute, Götze had won a fourth World Cup for Germany.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “I don’t know how to describe it.”

The matchwinner said it was a dream that had become reality. One that came about, according to his coach, with the help of some encouraging words whispered in his direction just before he came on.

“I said to Götze ‘OK, show the world you are better than Messi and can decide the World Cup',” Löw revealed afterwards.

The Götze whisperer: Löw's words to the eventual match-winner are now the stuff of legend. - CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP via Getty Images

The legacy

Germany’s latest World Cup triumph was hard earned. There were heroic performances all over the pitch in Rio, with Schweinsteiger battered and bruised in midfield and Lahm a brilliant leader on his 113th and final appearance for his country.

Mertesacker, who came on late in extra-time, pointed out that every player had been willing to play whatever role they could.

“It was tremendously important that everyone kept themselves fit and ready throughout,” he said in Raphael Honigstein’s book Das Reboot. “You had to devote yourself fully to the team for those few weeks. Mario and everyone else knew that they could come on at any stage and become really important from one moment to the next.”

Germany had become the first European team to win a World Cup in the Americas. Lahm, who retired from international football after holding aloft the trophy, was keen to stress how much of a team effort was required.

The moment that changed the course of history: Götze's expert finish from a tight angle proved decisive. - Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

“Whether we have the best individual players or whatever does not matter - you have to have the best team,” Lahm declared. “We stepped up time and again in the tournament.”

As for Löw, the assistant coach in 2006 who had Hansi Flick in that role in Brazil, it represented the culmination of countless sacrifices for his squad.

“We started this project 10 years ago and this is the result of many years of work - beginning with Jürgen Klinsmann,” the World Cup-winning head coach said. “If there is one team that deserves this it is these players… the team spirit is unbelievable. They have unbelievable willpower, and that is why we made it.”

Shortly after full-time, Neuer said that “all of Germany” could consider themselves world champions at that moment. For the 23-man squad and the coaching staff, however, their lives were changed forever.

“We’re going to celebrate for at least five weeks now,” he declared. “At some point we’ll stop celebrating but we’ll always keep waking up with a smile.”

Mark Rodden

Germany’s 23-man squad for the 2014 World Cup

1 Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Kevin Grosskreutz (Borussia Dortmund), 3 Matthias Ginter (Freiburg), 4 Benedikt Höwedes (Schalke), 5 Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), 6 Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), 7 Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), 8 Mesut Özil (Arsenal), 9 André Schürrle (Chelsea), 10 Lukas Podolski (Arsenal), 11 Miroslav Klose (Lazio), 12 Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover), 13 Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich), 14 Julian Draxler (Schalke), 15 Erik Durm (Borussia Dortmund), 16 Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich, captain), 17 Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), 18 Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich), 19 Mario Götze (Bayern Munich), 20 Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), 21 Shkodran Mustafi (Sampdoria), 22 Roman Weidenfeller (Borussia Dortmund), 23 Christoph Kramer (Borussia Mönchengladbach)