RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil
Mario Gotze produced the piece of individual skill that Lionel Messi couldn't muster.
With two quick, deft touches, Gotze 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 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.
Gotze, 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 5 yards.
It delivered Germany its fourth World Cup title, tied for second with Italy on the list of all-time champions. Brazil has five.
"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," Gotze 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 celebration. Messi walked past them with his hands on his hips — still in the shadow of his compatriot Diego Maradona, who led his country to the 1986 title.
Gotze, 22, came on as a substitute for Miroslav Klose in the 88th minute.
Andre Schurrle broke down the left, sent his cross into the area, and the Bayern Munich midfielder did the rest with a clinical finish. The goal echoed that of Andres Iniesta four years ago that won it for Spain over the Netherlands in another 1-0 final decided in extra time.
But Gotze's role was more of a surprise. Not only did he enter as a sub, he didn't have a great World Cup until Sunday. His only goal had come against Ghana in the second game of the group stage, and against Algeria in the round of 16 he was replaced at halftime. Gotze played just seven minutes in the quarterfinal and not at all in the semifinal.
Yet Sunday went entirely to script, German coach Joachim Low said.
"I said to Mario Gotze, 'Okay, 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,' " Low said. "I had a good feeling with him."
Germany is the first European team to win a World Cup in the Americas, and it ended a string of near misses since its 1996 European title. The team had lost one World Cup final, one Euro 2008 final and two World Cup semifinals since.
Argentina has been beaten by Germany in the past 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.
Messi, the four-time world player of the year at powerful Spanish power club Barcelona, is widely considered the best player since Maradona. But in his biggest game, Messi came up short.
Messi threatened intermittently, but he was effectively smothered by the German defense. His free kick in the 120th minute went well high.
Messi was voted the Golden Ball winner as tournament MVP but, after four goals in the group stage, he had none in the knockout rounds.
"At this moment I don't care about this prize — only lifting the trophy matters," Messi said.
Brazilian fans, still smarting after Tuesday's 7-1 drubbing against Germany in the semifinals, seemed generally pleased to see their most bitter rival lose the final. When Germany scored, fireworks were set off across the city.
"The Pope (Francis) may be Argentine, but God is Brazilian," said Aldo Malizia, 66, a Brazilian retiree.
Maybe an old quote from former England striker Gary Lineker is more fitting: "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win."