It started with street protests, unfinished soccer stadiums and transportation strikes.

The World Cup ended Sunday in dizzying fashion with one artfully placed strike for Germany.

The soccer gods aligned perfectly to ensure the best team won the magnificent spectacle that began June 12 and showcased 32 teams, 64 games and a record-tying 171 goals, none bigger than Super Mario Goetze's dream-crushing 113th minute score in Germany's 1-0 victory over formidable Argentina.

The late-game goal neatly symbolized the pageantry of what some are arguing is the best World Cup in history. Well, those not living in Brazil, anyway.

It has been a month of new faces, new teams, riveting victories and heart-aching defeats.

It has been a month of enthusiastic, well-behaved crowds, Brazilian organizational triumphs and game after game of unfolding drama all the way to Sunday's finale.

The World Cup saw the humiliation of the host country, which lost its final two games by a total of 10-1. That included the embarrassing 7-1 defeat to Germany in the semifinals last week, a loss of such magnitude that the five-time world champions plan to revamp the way Brazil plays soccer.

Brazil had plenty of company in the back-to-the-drawing board pronouncements. England, Italy, Portugal and Spain didn't advance out of group play, as the soccer world seemingly turned on its head over the boozy first two weeks of competition.


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Bidding adieu to traditional powers injected the tournament with a special karma. It helped push America one step closer to becoming a bona fide soccer nation, as coach Jurgen Klinsmann's team escaped the Group of Death and came within a whisker of reaching the quarterfinals for the third time.

The World Cup also gave us fabulous players to cheer: James Rodriguez of Colombia and Alexis Sanchez of Chile showed South American creativity, while goalkeepers Memo Ochoa of Mexico, Keylor Nevas of Costa Rica and American Tim Howard showered us with Cirque du Soleil performances in the net.

We even had the consummate villain in Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, who callously bit an Italian defender and then crumpled to the turf as if he had been wounded. FIFA officials banned the three-time offender for four months and nine games, but Suarez ended up a winner last week with a transfer from Liverpool to Barcelona FC.

The business of soccer never will cease to be cynical. But the World Cup gives us a respite from the sport's money-at-all-costs sensibility.

The event had other villainous characters to help spark record-breaking interest in the Shakespearean plots and subplots. Germany's Thomas Mueller and Holland's Arjen Robben are arguably two of the finest forwards playing today. But both are prone to diving, an unsportsmanlike show that gives their sport a bad reputation.

Both would do well to follow the example of Argentine Lionel Messi, a four-time FIFA player of the year who does his level best to stay on his feet despite a cadre of players hounding him.

The tournament also provided a platform to begin serious discussions about how to handle head injuries.

FIFA officials might crawl back into their luxurious holes after the successful soccer party in Brazil that was sure to please its sponsors. But the 2014 Cup eventually could prove to be a watershed moment, as millions of fans witnessed the dark side of the game in excruciating slow-motion replay.

Perhaps the biggest impact came Sunday from an incident involving German Christoph Kramer, who continued playing for 14 minutes after a blow to the face during a collision with Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay. The groggy-looking midfielder finally was replaced in the 31st minute.

Kramer's and other head injuries seen in Brazil could trigger an international debate on changing fundamental rules for substitutions to protect players' health.

But in the coming days, much of the attention will be afforded to Germany, which rightfully earned its fourth Jules Rimet Trophy in famed Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

Until Goetze scored in the second extra time Sunday, Argentina had not conceded a goal in 437 minutes during four knockout games.

The Germans did what Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands could not: beat goalkeeper Sergio Romero, a backup for AS Monaco of the French league.

Die Mannschaft ended a 24-year World Cup title drought and became the first European team to win the trophy in the Americas.

Germany's last major World Cup victory came in 1990 in Italy at the expense of Argentina.

It was fitting the talented soccer countries met Sunday in the third consecutive final that went to extra time.

Something had to give, and it did in a final that was every bit as entertaining as the tournament itself.

Most World Cup championships

5: Brazil (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
4: Germany (1954*, 1974*, 1990*, 2014)
4: Italy (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)
2: Argentina (1978, 1986)
2: Uruguay (1930, 1950)
1: England (1966)
1: France (1998)
1: Spain (2010)
* Represented by West Germany