Hundreds of millions watch the World Cup final

German soccer fans react to the winning goal in the World Cup final. Photo / AP
German soccer fans react to the winning goal in the World Cup final. Photo / AP

Hundreds of millions of television viewers worldwide and 74,000 spectators at the Maracana Stadium watched Germany take out the World Cup final with a 1-0 win against Argentina today.

The world-famous arena nestled among Rio de Janeiro's hills, high-rises and favelas was packed to the rim with boisterous fans and sharply dressed VIPs. They included President Vladimir Putin of Russia, the next World Cup host in 2018, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other national leaders.

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Many Brazilians were rooting for Germany - even though the Germans ousted Brazil in the semifinals - because they did not want to support Argentina, their intense football rival.

Back in Berlin, a monster crowd said by authorities to be a quarter-million strong crammed in front of giant TV screens near the German capital's famous Brandenburg Gate in pouring rain.

Rio's Copacabana beach teemed with excited fans. Tens of thousands of Argentines descended on the city, camping out and driving in convoys to be there.

Even Pope Francis was keeping an eye from the Vatican. The Argentine-born, football-loving pontiff had pledged neutrality, promising not to pray for any team. However, Francis did tweet on the eve of the final: "The World Cup allowed people from different countries and religions to come together."


Mario Goetze celebrates scoring Germany's winning goal in the World Cup final. Photo / AP

The World Cup also showcased Brazil, good sides and bad. With $13 billion in spending, last-minute scrambling and what Brazilians call "jeitinho" - their famous ability to improvise solutions - South America's largest country pulled together a tournament across 12 far-flung host cities.

That was encouraging for Olympic officials concerned that Rio is slipping with preparations for the 2016 Games. Visiting Rio and its Olympic village-to-be, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach praised Brazilians' "passion and efficiency" and their first World Cup in 64 years. Bach was at the final, too.

The tournament will be remembered for exhilarating football and because it went so smoothly, with no logistical disasters for the 32 teams and hundreds of thousands of traveling fans.

Police launched tear gas and stun grenades to disperse some 300 anti-World Cup protestors who tried to march toward Maracana Stadium shortly before the final.

The demonstrators were protesting against police repression and the country's lacklustre health care when authorities intervened, one day after 19 activists accused of vandalism were arrested.

However there also was no repeat of giant public protests that unsettled last year's warm-up tournament, the Confederations Cup. Heavy police security around venues also dissuaded dissent.


A young Argentina fan reacts to Goetze's goal in the World Cup final. Photo / AP

The more than 25,000 police and soldiers deployed in Rio for the final combined to provide the biggest security detail in Brazilian history.

The largely white and seemingly well-off stadium crowds reflected Brazil's stark economic inequalities. This was a World Cup that Brazil's black and mixed-race poorer citizens mostly saw from afar on television.

Broken promises of new subway lines and other life-improving infrastructure to accompany the 12 all-new or renovated World Cup arenas reflected poorly on Brazil's bureaucracy, as did accusations that corrupt public servants skimmed off funds. An unfinished overpass collapsed, killing two people, in the host city of Belo Horizonte where, days later, Germany humiliated Brazil, drawing floods of tears across this nation of 200 million people.

Brazilians will long rue that historic 7-1 loss in the semifinals and think the humiliation might have been avoided had a back injury not robbed them of Neymar, Brazil's best player. Compounding their regret, Brazil also lost 3-0 to the Netherlands in Saturday's match for third place.

The World Cup trophy isn't, in fact, a cup but an 18-carat gold sculpture of two athletes, with arms raised, holding the Earth. At 6.1 kilograms (13.6 pounds), it is heavier than a newborn baby. FIFA engraves the name of the winners on the base of the trophy but doesn't let them keep it, instead giving them a gold-plated replica.


Argentina's Pablo Zabaleta lies on the pitch as Lionel Messi stands beside him after the World Cup final. Photo / AP

Many Brazilians backed Germany in the final. "It is absurd for Brazilians to root for Argentina. This cannot be," said Renata Braga, a fan in Rio.

Germany's slick, attacking, disciplined football made it arguably the most entertaining team in Brazil. With 18 goals in the tournament, it was the highest scorer.

Argentina wasn't as flashy but rode the genius of Messi, as the four-time world player of the year had his best World Cup despite missing a clear chance in the final.

Argentine fans sang Brazil-taunting songs. Since they couldn't celebrate a World Cup win, second-best for many Brazilians was their neighbors going home disappointed.

- AP

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