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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 a slew of scoring records in leading Barcelona to every major club title and is widely considered the best player since Maradona.

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. 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 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, 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.

“At this moment I don’t care about this prize — only lifting the trophy matters,” Messi said. “I’m hurt for losing the way we did. … I think we deserved a little better, we had chances. As well as they controlled the ball, we still had the clearest chances.” 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 game 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 goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, and later had a goal ruled out for offside.

Germany defender Benedikt Hoewedes hit the post just before halftime with a header.

Germany had entered the game 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. “I salute the players, they made the country proud.”

After Germany’s last win in 1990, then-coach Franz Beckenbauer predicted that 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 may not be as long.

“We, I think, deserve this trophy,” Goetze said.