Game number 63 of 64 in South Africa turned out to be the game of the tournament. The World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands at Soccer City tomorrow can't possibly live up to the throbbing mayhem of Germany 3, Uruguay 2 in Port Elizabeth.
There have been times when the third-fourth play-off has been a limp addendum to the tournament. Not this time. Not in South Africa, where the pleasant surprises just keep on coming.
With the Golden Boot up for grabs, my young player of the tournament Thomas Mueller opened the scoring, following up on Bastian Schweinsteiger’s shot. Fernando Muslera did his best to get a grip on that dastardly Jabulani ball, but Mueller was there for the rebound after 19 minutes.
Schweinsteiger, who scored twice in this game four years ago, then got caught in possession - Diego Perez produced a dream sliding tackle, came up with the ball, and found Luis Suarez. He let Edinson Cavani loose and the veteran German goalkeeper Hans-Joerg Butt was beaten for the equaliser after 28 minutes.
Uruguay, with Luis Suarez roundly booed for his handball against Ghana (can’t agree with that, we would all have done the same as he did), refused to recognise their status as Africa’s pariahs. And just as Mueller had joined Holland’s Wesley Sneijder and Spain David Villa on five goals, so Diego Forlan did the same.
Again Suarez was involved, this time his cross found Forlan – like Mueller included in my World Cup XI http://neal-collins.blogspot.com/2010/07/world-cup-xi-best-and-worst-of-south.html - and his bounced-volley beat Butt.
By now we knew this was no ordinary game. Only three times in this World Cup had sides come back from behind – Holland’s quarter-final victory over Brazil at the same ground was the most notable – and both sides simply threw themselves into the fray.
With 56 minutes played, Uruguay keeper Muslera failed to get new Manchester City signing Jerome Boateng’s cross – he may have been impeded by a defender, but he should have crashed him out of the way – and there was Marcell Jansen to make it 2-2.
With Boateng charging from left back to right wing and the vuvuzelas reaching fever pitch, we had to have a winner. And we got one eight minutes from time. Uruguay failed to clear a German corner and the ball sat up beautifully for Sami Khedira – another of Germany’s great young immigrant stars – to head home.
But still it wasn’t over. Drenched by rain and sweat, the players stormed up and down at the end of a month of absorbing football. And the game of games at this tournament so nearly ended in drama. With the last kick of the game, Forlan the formidable, looped a free-kick on to the bar.
The Jabulani, which will be replaced by a unique “Jo-Bulani” ball for the final, just wouldn’t come down another inch.
Germany had taken third again. But Uruguay go home with their heads high. What a night. Another great night at South Africa 2010. Please Spain, don’t stifle the Dutch tomorrow. Take them on, go for goal. Make it another night to remember for the Rainbow Nation and 600 million people across the globe.