RIO DE JANEIRO – Don't call this Germany squad underachievers any more.
Call them World Cup champions.
Mario Gotze scored in the 113th minute Sunday night, and the 1-0 victory gave Germany its fourth World Cup title – and second at the expense of Argentina. It's the first time a European team has won the World Cup in either North or South America.
When the final whistle sounded, the bench players raced onto the field, joining their teammates in a dogpile. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who made her second trip to the World Cup to see the final, stood and applauded.
As the German players partied, Gotze appeared to wipe a tear from his eyes.
Lionel Messi, meanwhile, could only stand and watch, hands on his hips and brushing off any attempts to console him. This was his time to win the one title that's eluded him, and his performance Sunday will do nothing to quiet the critics – talking to you, Pele – who say he'll never be in the conversation for best player of all time without a World Cup title.
Messi disappeared for large stretches of the game, and whiffed on what is normally a gimme for him. With the ball on his left foot and German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer frozen, Messi took a shot from about 9 yards. But he mis-hit it just a tad, and it missed by inches at the far post.
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He also skied a free kick in the final stoppage time, and had a shot cleared off the line in the first half.
But he isn't the only Argentina player to blame for this loss.
Though Germany came in seeming to be the better team, Argentina had more chances. Gonzalo Higuain missed a golden opportunity in the 21st after Toni Kroos' dismal backheader, shanking a shot from 18 yards.
It was so bad Higuain didn't even need to watch it go wide, bending over and putting his hands on his knees as Javier Mascherano clutched his head.
And Rodrigo Palacio botched what looked like an easy chip shot in the 97th.
As much as Messi has been criticized for his World Cup futility, so had Germany. Though it had made the semifinals in both 2006 and 2010, this team – perhaps its best since 1990 – had yet to win a major title.
In fact, it had only made the final at one major tournament, losing to Spain at the 2008 European championship.
But the Germans were brimming with confidence ahead of this game, saying they fully expected to win it. Even if they needed extra time to do it.
That 90 minutes weren't enough to settle this final, the third between Germany and Argentina, was only fitting. This was the mother of all grudge matches even before it began, with Argentina beating Germany for its second title in 1986 and Germany – led by a guy named Jurgen Klinsmann — getting payback four years later.
As if that wasn't enough, Germany had eliminated the Albiceleste at the last two World Cups. It beat them in a penalty shootout in 2006, then routed them 4-0 in South Africa to bring an embarrassing close to Diego Maradona's coaching career.
Argentina fans were thrilled to see their team back in the finals for the first time since 1990 – and only too happy to rub a little salt in Brazil's deep wound. Though FIFA said Germany and Argentina each received 13,000 tickets for fans, the stadium looked – and sounded – more like a game in Buenos Aires.
Wearing Argentina's trademark blue-and-white striped shirt, they sang and cheered and bounced up and down, waving jerseys and flags and scarves.
But despite Brazil losing its last two games by an AYSO-like combined score of 10-1, the home fans got the last laugh – sort of – with the German victory.
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