Burton Albion
Manchester City
11:45 AM UTC
Leg 2Aggregate: 0 - 9
Game Details

Duarte: Dunga's return is complicated


World Cup triumph validates Germany

The best World Cup in recent years was won by the best team, and in the best fashion, too. It would have been a great shame if such a wonderful tournament had been decided by a penalty shootout. Mario Gotze's outstanding winner brought the right conclusion in every way.

In the past, Germany had been cursed with faint praise, derided as an "efficient" or "meticulous" team. And while those two adjectives are still accurate (after all, Germany did build their own training camp in Brazil), they are far down the list behind words like "gorgeous," "driven" and "mesmeric." This was the team that opened the tournament by pounding Portugal and that reached the final by battering Brazil. They were well worth their success.

Ten years ago, Germany were dumped out of Euro 2004 in the group stage after failing to win a single game. This was very much in keeping with their performance in Euro 2000, in which they were dumped out in the group stage after failing to win a single game. Their run to the final of the 2002 World Cup was never anything more than a freakish surge, inspired by Oliver Kahn's goalkeeping and aided by surprising results elsewhere.

What followed was a reboot so dramatic that it made J.J. Abrams' eye-popping reinterpretation of "Star Trek" look like a tired frame-by-frame reshoot of "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home."

Match 64
Game Details

It wasn't just the investment in academies and the enhanced focus on technical development, it was the idea that the national team was more than just a senior squad. While some nations like, oh, to pick one at random, let's say, England, see little value in creating a clear progression through the youth ranks, Germany took those tournaments seriously. And, given that six of the 2009 U-21 European champions were named in the starting lineup on Sunday, you can see why.

Added to all of that, they have a manager who is smart enough to make the right decisions and brave enough to reverse his wrong ones. Joachim Low was beginning to feel a little bit of pressure after a disappointing semifinal exit from Euro 2012. This, it's fair to say, will keep the wolf from the door.

Germany were brilliant. There are a number of nations in Europe and beyond who could do a lot worse than examining the reasons why.

Jaded and reduced, he may have been, but Lionel Messi still offered moments that lit up this World Cup. The goal against Bosnia-Herzegovina, the goal against Iran, the late, late surge that led to the winner against Switzerland. And then, on the last night, his utter disregard for the ridiculous decision to award him the Golden Ball.

Lionel Messi couldn't hide his lack of enthusiasm for being awarded the Golden Ball.

Accepting the bauble with all the enthusiasm of a child accepting extra maths homework, he won the hearts of all right-thinking football fans. Messi was barely the best player in the Argentina squad, let alone in the entire tournament.

This was not the coruscating Messi who has torn European football apart for nearly 10 years. This was a time-share Messi, loaned out to Argentina for a limited period every game, offering shimmering moments of genius amid long stretches of heavy-leggedness brought on by what looked like exhaustion. Javier Mascherano was Argentina's standout performer.

But let's deal with one issue and deal with it emphatically, so that it never rears its head again. Messi's failure to win the World Cup has absolutely no bearing on his status as one of the greatest players of all time. What happened in Brazil does not take away his three Champions League wins, his six La Liga wins or his four World Player of the Year awards.

The fact that he was heavily marked and extremely tired this summer does not change the fact that he is one of the finest footballers you will ever see. World Cups are wonderful, and this blog isn't entirely sure how it will live its life now that the tournament is over, but they do not have a monopoly on assessing greatness. Messi's place in history is quite safe.

Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.