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 Estadio do Maracana 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 Goetze just minutes before the game would have gone to a shootout, that celebrated its fourth World Cup title after 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 Goetze 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." Match Highlights
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 during the past month was relatively low. Even after Brazil's national team was embarrassed in the semifinal - and then lost again in the third-place game Saturday - forecasts of widespread tumult were never realized. Messi Vomits on Pitch
That does not mean there was not unrest. Hundreds of protesters gathered at their usual spot in the city center Sunday afternoon and marched through the streets in an anti-FIFA demonstration. They were met by a large cadre of Brazilian police officers, and there were instances of tear gas, as well as batons, being used on protesters, according to reports. Fan on Pitch Stops World Cup Final
The city was also filled with traveling fans, many of them from Argentina.
It was estimated that as many as 100,000 Argentines traveled across the border, and the vast majority seemed to settle in Copacabana or other neighborhoods along the water. That most did not have tickets to the final was irrelevant; they were here to eat, drink, dance and, once kickoff finally arrived, watch the match among the masses.
One Argentine who was not in Brazil, however, was the country's president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Kirchner declined an invitation from President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, citing a lingering illness and a desire to celebrate her grandson's first birthday with her family. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany did make the trans-Atlantic trip, as did Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, which will host the World Cup in 2018.
They saw a match that began with a surging pace and featured a bit of controversy, too, as Christoph Kramer, a young German midfielder, became at least the third player in this tournament to return to the field shortly after suffering an obvious head injury. Kramer was ultimately replaced about 10 minutes after colliding with an Argentine opponent and was clearly dazed, adding more fuel to a debate about soccer's lack of a comprehensive protocol for dealing with head injuries.
Argentina will ultimately rue three missed opportunities that could have - and, perhaps should have - changed the tenor of the game. The first came after about 20 minutes when Gonzalo Higuain somehow missed the net completely after Toni Kroos inexplicably headed the ball back toward his own goal, leaving Higuain with a gift of an opening. Soon after, Higuain scored but was ruled offside.
That was followed by Messi, just after halftime, yanking a shot of his own wide as he tried for the far post on a break into the penalty area. Then, in extra time, Rodrigo Palacio, in alone with Neuer, chipped his shot over the goalkeeper but wide of the frame.
Argentina finished the game with 10 shots but only two shots on goal.
"We are gutted," said Javier Mascherano, who grabbed his head in disbelief after seeing Higuain's first miss. "The pain will be for life because this was our opportunity."
Germany, meanwhile, was more efficient. The Germans came close just before halftime when Benedikt Hoewedes blasted a header off the goal post and Germany kept pressure on Argentina's goalkeeper Sergio Romero, putting seven of its 10 shots on goal.
The extra time was slower - understandably as the players slogged through the end to their seventh game of the tournament - and Germany finally seized its moment seven minutes before the end. Andre Schuerrle powered down the left side of the field and then floated a tantalizing ball toward the side of the 6-yard box.
Goetze, who had come on as a substitute for Miroslav Klose, showed good speed to arrive under the ball and chest it down. He lashed it past Romero and into the net, prompting an all-out sprint from his teammates on the German bench as they poured onto the field in delight. (Success for Brazil, Just Not on the Field)
"It is absolutely sensational," Goetze said. "A dream became reality."
Argentina had a few last-ditch rushes up field but struggled to penetrate Neuer's penalty area and was left with a final opportunity when Messi lined up a free kick from about 20 yards away.
The Argentine fans craned their necks, and coach Alejandro Sabella crouched down in expectation. But there was no magic as Messi's shot flew over the net.
It was over. Sabella shook his head with frustration. Messi kicked the dirt. And up in the stands, the German fans - as well as the Brazilians - shouted out with glee.
© 2014 New York Times News Service