AACHAN, GERMANY — I checked the time on my watch.
Five minutes until the bus would leave. I reached over my desk, grabbed my German flag and swiftly walked out.
I found my group, consisting of two Americans, a Canadian and an Angolan – all of us budding researchers at RWTH Aachen in Aachen, Germany. We made our way to the next bus stop and shortly got onto a bus, crowded with people. Everybody was tense, mentally preparing. Nobody talked.
Germany was on our mind.
After an hour and a half of nervous waiting, we were inside the Tivoli Aachen Stadium. Yes, we were in Aachen, and yes, the 2014 final — Weltmeisterschaft— was being played in Rio de Janeiro, but the game deserved to be watched in a suitable location. That’s why we were at Tivoli, the local team’s soccer stadium, to watch on a huge projection screen brought in specifically for this tournament.
Everybody was singing along with the songs playing, not so much because they were really into it, but more because they needed an outlet for all that pent-up tension. It was kind of like a party where all the guests were awkwardly standing around, putting a foot here and there in time to the music and mouthing the words, but not ready to actually get started. We were all there for the same purpose, but we didn’t have any reason to celebrate, at least not yet. So we stood around, and looked at each other, and waited.
The countdown began.
Soon enough the music faded and the game began. We put all our energy into singing and chanting, knowing well that Manuel Neuer, Toni Kroos, Thomas Mueller and the rest of our stars would never be able to hear us all the way from Brazil.
The opening minutes of the game saw half-chances come and go for both sides, with one glaring exception. In the 21st minute, one of Argentina’s star forwards, Gonzalo Higuain, received a careless giveaway right at the top of the box. He had a free path to the net, and wastefully put his shot wide as the defenders closed in.
After that scare the singing started up again, trying to boost our confidence in our team. Argentina had flashy stars such as Lionel Messi that could take a match by the scruff of its neck, but we were a team. Did that matter more than having arguably the best player in the world? We were going to find out.
As the minutes wore on, Germany took control of the game. Their mission was to keep the ball away from Messi, and the best way to do that was to keep the ball away from Argentina. But when Germany turned the ball over, they pressured the ball as a team, forcing Argentina to rush their passes and many times to give it right back to Germany. Argentina was content with this style of play and their defense held very firm, not allowing Germany any decent opportunities to score. Time after time Germany was in the attacking third, looking for an opening in the defense. Argentina was dangerous on the counter-attack, swiftly transitioning from defense to offense and finding the German defenders and midfielders a step slow to recover.
In the 30th minute, following a lightning-quick attack where the ball went from the Argentinian keeper to Messi to forward Ezequiel Lavezzi’s foot all in 11 seconds flat, before Lavezzi sent in a beautifully crafted cross to Higuain, who was streaking into the box. He calmly touched the ball into the net, and Tivoli grew dead silent. Everybody was in shock. We had control of the game, but we were still losing. We looked at each other and at the projection screen with a wild look in our eyes, a mixture of fear, horror and dejection, as Higuain started celebrating.
And then he stopped celebrating. The screen finally cut to a shot of the linesman, who was flagging for offsides on a very close play. No goal. We still had life, but we were chastened.
Immediately the chanting started again, trying to breathe life into our team after such a close call. Just before halftime, German defender Benedikt Hoewedes hit the woodwork on a spectacular diving header, but we still did not have a goal.
Halftime came, and the stadium was still just like that awkward crowd at a party. Some went to go get drinks, others to go get food, but it was all rather unnecessary. Did we go to a stadium just to get drinks and food? No. We wanted action, we wanted a reason to celebrate. Instead we were given a specter of anxiety and nervousness and fear that hung over the crowd.
We could hear fans in Rio cheering through the sound accompanying the screen, but we were all completely silent. The tension was too much for us. Every once in a while someone would try to get a chant going, but we couldn’t sing anymore. We could only stare, petrified at the screen, just hoping that we would emerge victorious.
Chances came and went, but at the end of regulation time the game was still scoreless. For such a big occasion there had to be suspense; it was the only way to properly decide a World Cup final.
Shortly after extra time started, in the 91st minute, substitutes Mario Goetze and Andre Schuerrle combined and Schuerrle took a half-volley on a difficult ball and stung the palms of Argentine keeper Sergio Romero. It was a warning sign.
In the 97th minute Argentine substitute Rodrigo Palacio brought down a long, aerial pass inside the box; his touch created loads of room for himself behind the defense. Neuer came rushing out and Palacio simply had to score, but put his lob wide, and squandered yet another golden opportunity for Argentina.
We still stood around, nervously watching, tensely waiting for something to happen, anxiously waiting.
And in the 113th minute, we scored.
And the party started.
Schuerrle sent in a gorgeous cross to Goetze who brought it down with his chest and stuck the ball in the side netting from a close angle. We couldn’t believe our eyes, that our dream was actually coming true. There was still seven minutes left in extra time but there was no doubt in our mind who was going to win.
And when the final whistle blew, all of the awful tension, anxiety and nervousness we replaced with pure, straight joy. Everybody was taking selfies, calling friends and dancing. We could not believe what we had just accomplished
As we hugged, one of my German friends said to me, “You’re a part of history.”
I looked out over the sea of people, and, overcome with emotion and exhaustion and started laughing. Who can describe such a wonderful feeling, such a crazy, epic night? One thought in particular was almost more than I could handle. It felt so strange and yet so beautiful to say.
“We won the World Cup.”