RIO DE JANEIRO >> With two quick and sublimely deft touches, Mario Goetze ended Germany’s 24-year wait for another World Cup title.
Goetze scored the winning goal in extra time to give Germany a 1-0 victory over Argentina on Sunday in a tight and tense World Cup final that came down to a few moments of individual skill.
Goetze, who wasn’t born when West Germany beat Argentina in the 1990 final, controlled a cross with his chest in the 113th minute and in one fluid motion volleyed the ball past goalkeeper Sergio Romero and inside the far post from five yards out.
It was a goal that gave Germany its fourth World Cup title in its eighth final, and left Argentina star Lionel Messi still walking in the shadow of his compatriot Diego Maradona, who led his country to the 1986 title.
Goetze went on as a substitute for Miroslav Klose toward the end of regulation time and the 22-year-old midfielder’s fresh legs made the difference.
Andre Schuerrle broke down the left flank, sending his cross into the area, and the Bayern Munich player did the rest with a clinical finish. The goal echoed that of Andres Iniesta’s four years ago, when the midfielder scored in similar fashion but from the other side of the area to give Spain a 1-0 extra time win over the Netherlands.
“It’s incredible. The team did it beautifully,” said Manuel Neuer, who was voted the tournament’s best goalkeeper. “At some point we’ll stop celebrating but we’ll still wake up with a smile.”
For Germany, the win ends a string of near misses since winning its last major title at the 1996 European Championship. The team lost the 2002 World Cup final to Brazil and lost in the semifinals in both 2006 and 2010.
Argentina had not been back in the final since that 1990 loss, and has now been beaten by Germany in the last three World Cups.
“This was our chance, and we felt that way. We couldn’t do it. We have to lift our head and suffer the pain,” Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano said. “Obviously, the pain is tremendous. We wanted the cup for Argentina.”
It is Germany’s first World Cup title as a unified nation, having won as West Germany in 1954, 1974 and 1990. It was also the third World Cup final between these countries and had been billed as a matchup between the perfect team and the perfect individual, pitting Germany’s machine-like unit against the brilliance of Messi, the four-time world player of the year.
But in the biggest game of his career, Messi came up short.
He had one good chance to score when he was sent free in the area just after the halftime break, but sent his shot wide of the far post. It was a difficult angle, but still the type of chance he so often converts for Barcelona.
Messi threatened intermittently throughout the match, but was effectively neutralized for long stretches. When he did try to break forward with one of his quick dribbles, he was surrounded by the German defense.
His free kick in the 120th minute went well high.
When the final whistle blew, Germany players jumped on top of each other in a pile in the middle of the pitch, while Messi walked alone with his hands on his hips toward the center circle.
Messi, who scored four goals in the group stage but none in the knockout rounds, then had to trudge alone up the stairs of the Maracana Stadium to accept the Golden Ball award for the tournament’s best player, shaking hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel along the way.
Shortly afterward, the German team made its way up the stairs for captain Philipp Lahm to raise the hallowed 18-carat gold trophy as confetti rained down and fireworks exploded in the sky.
“It’s incredible how hard we worked and what a performance we produced,” Lahm said. “It’s an incredible feeling.”
Up until Goetze’s winning goal, the game was more notable for top-class defending than creative attacking, but both teams had their share of chances — especially in the first half.
Gonzalo Higuain was gifted a free chance when Toni Kroos’ back header landed at his feet and left him all alone with Neuer. However, he sent his shot woefully wide.
Higuain thought he had scored in the 30th after Messi picked out Ezequiel Lavezzi with a great ball and he sent a cross in toward the Napoli striker. Higuain slotted his finish inside the far post and ran to the corner flag in celebration before realizing he had been called for offside.
Shortly afterward, Germany was forced to use a substitution as Christoph Kramer had to go off with a suspected concussion after colliding with Ezequiel Garay’s shoulder earlier in the game. Kramer had continued playing but looked visibly dizzy as he was led off the field. Kramer, who was a late inclusion in the lineup after Sami Khedira was injured during the warmup, was replaced by Schuerrle.
Germany’s best chance in regulation time came just before the halftime break when Benedikt Hoewedes hit the post with a header from a corner.