World Cup final Man of the Match rankings

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Germany has won the World Cup in extra time, outlasting Argentina who were up for the challenge but ultimately wasteful.

Lionel Messi wasn’t able to put the cherry on his legacy, but for Germany they put a handfull of near-misses behind them and capped off a two-decade long building process.

For a match that produced few goals, it was still full of individual performances, and that’s what we’re here to discuss.

Much of the action took place in the midfield, and that’s where we concentrate our list. But first, the hero…

5. Mario Götze

Not even born the last time Germany won the World Cup, the 22-year-old came on just as regulation came to a close, and replaced a legend. But it was he who produced the moment of brilliance, and that it was.

Settling Andre Schurrle’s cross with a chest touch and volleying home midair, he produced a moment his country and the world will never forget, and for that it’s impossible to ignore.

Götze is the youngest scorer in a World Cup final since Wolfgang Weber in 1966. Shots of him taking in the moment after the match were chill-inducing.

4. Ezequiel Garay

Argentina’s defense has to get credit in some way, and Garay was the best of the bunch

As the match went on, the Argentinian defense had to do more and more work, and for most of it they were up to the task. Martin Demichelis had himself a great match as well, but as they tired he did too, and was at fault for not tracking Mario Götze on the final blow, Germany’s goal.

Garay completed 35/40 passes including just two giveaways in his own half, and led the match with 11 clearances. He tracked Miroslav Klose very well, and had the most energy of his defense as the match waned on.  The Argentinian defense didn’t concede for nearly 500 minutes before Götze’s winner, and Garay was a leader at the back.

3. Jerome Boateng

From Argentina’s defense now to Germany’s defense, Boateng was a rock.  He often pressed up high to support the midfield, and pumped long balls up forward as well.  Those long balls ended up bringing his passing numbers down, but his marking abilities – even with the high line – were near perfect.

He also completed all six of his attempted tackles, meaning he was incredibly hard to beat on the ball. He won 4/6 duels in the air, and cleared the ball nine times.

His brother is embroiled in controversy with the Ghanan national team, but for Jerome, it’s delight at the end of the 2014 World Cup.

2. Javier Mascherano

Lionel Messi wore the captain’s armband, but it’s clear who ran the midfield: Mascherano. A star performance all tournament, Mascherano was a physical presence that punished Germany every time it tried to enter the middle of the pitch.

He probably should have earned a second yellow card a few times, but let off a couple of times, he rewarded his team.

Messi won the Golden Ball for player of the tournament (more on that ridiculous decision later) but Mascherano was the best player on the Argentinian team.

1. Bastian Schweinsteiger

This is actually a relatively obvious choice.  Punished repeatedly by physical Argentinian play, Schweinsteiger got up and responded every single time. When Sami Khedira went down just minutes before kickoff with an injury, young Christoph Kramer came in.

Schweinsteiger knew he would have to provide the youngster with cover already, but when Kramer himself got his bell rung and replaced by an attacker in Schurrle, it was the 29-year-old who took the middle of the pitch and made it his own.

As Messi felt the need to drop deeper and deeper into the midfield, he found himself smothered by Schweinsteiger, and he was able to distribute the passes as well.  He finished with 94 completed passes in 105 attempts, a 90% completion rate and the most completed passes of anyone on the field.

It’s not the first time Schweinsteiger’s put in a performance like this for either club or country, but he’d been somewhat of a princess this tournament, whining to the referee constantly and shying away from physicality, along with making silly challenges. Not today. He was the Schweinsteiger of old, and ruled the midfield of a World Cup final, and for that is our Man of the Match.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.