Germany revels in World Cup title
Mario Gotze scored in the second period of extra time on Sunday to lift Germany to its fourth World Cup title with a 1-0 victory over Argentina at the Maracana.
It was a titanic clash between two football giants for 90 regulation minutes as the sides traded quality scoring opportunities in the third-ever meeting between the nations at the World Cup final.
The tension in the stadium was palpable as the match went to extra time, and it was Gotze, the Bayern Munch man, who came on a substitute for Miroslav Klose and fired home the winning tally in the 113th minute, making Germany the first European nation to ever win the World Cup in South America.
The victory is Germany's first major international trophy since winning the 1996 European Championship, and first World Cup title since 1990 when it defeated Argentina at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
Argentina have been led all tournament by Lionel Messi, who has scored four goals during the competition, but the Barcelona man was unable to come up with a necessary bit of magic late on as he had one final opportunity to find an equalizer in stoppage time with a free kick from about 30 yards, but the strike sailed well over the bar.
The referee blew the final whistle moments later, handing Germany the title and denying Argentina its first World Cup triumph since 1986.
"It's unbelievable what we have achieved," said Germany captain Philipp Lahm. "We improved throughout the tournament and didn't get down when things didn't always go our way.
"We just stuck to our path and at the end we're standing here as world champions. It's an unbelievable feeling. The team stayed calm and patient, we knew that we had something left at the end."
Germany dominated possession in the opening minutes as Argentina was content to sit back, absorb pressure and try to hit on the counter-attack, which did produce several nervy moments for the German defense.
Argentina's best scoring opportunity of the first half came in the 21st minute with some good fortune as Toni Kroos mistakenly headed the ball right into the path of Gonzalo Higuian, but the Napoli man pulled his attempt badly wide of the left post.
Germany responded with a half-chance in the 28th minute when Klose made a good run in behind the Argentine defense, but the service from Bastian Schweinsteiger was swallowed up by goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
Argentina celebrated what looked like the opening tally in the 30th minute when Higuain fired home a Messi cross from the right flank, but Higuian was clearly in an offside position.
The Germans answered with a couple chances from distance that didn't trouble Romero, but their best opportunity of the opening 45 minutes came in stoppage time when Kroos lofted a corner kick into the area where defender Benedikt Howedes sent a free header on goal, but it thundered off the right post and fell to Thomas Muller, who was in an offside position as the halftime whistle blew.
The match slowed down considerably in the second half, but Argentina had a golden chance to break the deadlock in the 47th minute through Messi, who ran in behind the German defense, but bent his strike just wide of the far post.
Klose, the all-time leader in World Cup goals with 16, answered with a chance on the hour mark as he found space in the box between Argentine defenders Pablo Zabaleta and Martin Demichelis to get a header on goal, but it didn't cause Romero any problems.
The Germans continued to search for the winner as Mesut Ozil got down the right flank in the 81st minute and sent it to Kroos at the top of the box, but Kroos skewed the attempt wide as the contest headed to extra time.
Andre Schurrle smashed one on frame with pace just minutes into extra time which forced Romero to parry it away.
Argentina had a golden chance to find a goal in the 97th minute as substitute Rodrigo Palacio got in behind the defense and attempted to chip the ball over the head of Neuer, but it went wide.
The breakthrough finally occurred seven minutes from time with some spectacular attacking play from Schurrle and Gotze.
Schurrle did well to get free down the left wing and he sent a well-struck, driven cross into the area for Gotze, who deftly controlled with his chest and smashed it past Romero into the side netting with a thunderous volley.
The goal put Argentina on the back foot for the first time in the tournament, but they pressed forward looking for a late winner, hoping Messi could possibly produce some magic.
He got his opportunity deep in stoppage time after winning a free kick following a foul by Schweinsteiger, but it sailed well over Neuer's net.
The chance to send it to penalty kicks was gone as Argentina finished as runners-up despite conceding just four goals over the course of the competition.
"These are very close matches and when you make a mistake, you know it's difficult to turn it around. But in general terms, I'm very proud and my boys played an extraordinary World Cup," Argentina head coach Alejandro Sabella said. "It was very exciting to see them play and it's clear they gave everything for the Argentinian jersey. They can look themselves in the mirror and know they gave everything. I congratulate my players for their extraordinary work and also congratulate Germany on winning the title."