RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Mario Goetze produced the piece of individual skill Lionel Messi couldn’t muster.
With two quick, deft touches, Goetze ended Germany’s 24-year wait for another World Cup title with an extra-time winner against Argentina on Sunday — denying Messi the one title he seemingly needs to forever take his place among the game’s all-time greats.
It was the moment of brilliance that ensured Germany’s 1-0 victory in a tight and tense final.
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.
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It delivered Germany its fourth World Cup title, matching Italy for second on the list of all-time champions. Brazil has won the trophy five times.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling. I don’t know how to describe it. You just shoot that goal in, you don’t really know what’s happening,” Goetze said. “And then, at the end of the match, having a party with the team, the whole country … it is, for us, a dream come true.”
At the final whistle, Germany players fell into a pile in a midpitch celebration.
Messi walked past them with hands on his hips — still in the shadow of his compatriot Diego Maradona, who led his country to the 1986 title.
The 22-year-old Goetze went on as a substitute for Miroslav Klose near the end of regulation time, and his fresh legs helped.
Andre Schuerrle broke down the left flank, sending his cross into the area, and the Bayern Munich midfielder did the rest with a perfect finish. The goal echoed that of Andres Iniesta 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 victory over the Netherlands in South Africa.
The outcome went entirely to script, according to Germany coach Joachim Loew.
“I said to Mario Goetze, ‘OK, show to the world that you’re better than Messi and you can decide the World Cup. You have all the possibilities to do that,’ ” Loew said. “I had a good feeling with him.”
Germany became the first European team to win a World Cup in the Americas, and the victory 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, the Euro 2008 final to Spain and was eliminated in the World Cup semifinals in both 2006 and 2010.
Argentina had not been back in the final since that 1990 setback, and has 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 heads and suffer the pain,” Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano said. “Obviously, the pain is tremendous.”
It is Germany’s first World Cup title as a unified nation, having won as West Germany in 1954, 1974 and 1990.
The Germans faced Argentina in both the 1986 and 1990 finals, during Maradona’s heyday. This time, they were up against Messi, the four-time world player of the year who has set numerous scoring records in leading FC Barcelona of Spain to every major club title. He is widely considered the best player since Maradona.
But in the biggest match of his career, the 27-year-old 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. It was a difficult angle, but also the type of chance he often converts for Barcelona.
Messi threatened intermittently throughout the match, but was effectively smothered by the German defense. His free kick in the 120th minute went well high.
Messi, who scored four goals in the group stage but none in the knockout rounds, had to trudge alone up the stairs of Maracana stadium to accept the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s best player, shaking hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel along the way.
“At this moment, I don’t care about this prize — only lifting the trophy matters,” Messi said.
After Messi received his award, the German team made its way up the stairs for captain Philipp Lahm to raise the hallowed 18-carat gold trophy.
Until Goetze’s winning goal, the match was more notable for top-class defending than creative attacking, but both teams had their share of chances.
Gonzalo Higuain fired wide when gifted a chance in a one-on-one with German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, and later had an apparent goal taken away for offside.
Germany defender Benedikt Hoewedes hit the post just before halftime with a header.
Germany entered the match as the favorite after its 7-1 semifinal drubbing of Brazil. But Argentina proved to be an entirely different proposition.
“I’m very proud of the team. They played a great game against a great team,” Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said.
After Germany’s 1990 title, then-coach Franz Beckenbauer predicted a unified Germany would be “unbeatable” in the future.
It took 24 years to prove him right but with young players like Goetze, the next wait might not be as long.
“We, I think, deserve this trophy,” Goetze said.