By James Masters
(CNN) — Never bet against Germany.
In a world where so much can change so quickly, perhaps it is reassuring that there is one constant which remains.
The nation which had ripped Brazil’s dreams to shreds in the semifinals, won its fourth World Cup after a tense 1-0 victory over Argentina Sunday.
Mario Gotze’s strike, seven minutes from the end of extra time, ensured Germany ended its 24-year wait for glory at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium.
For all the doubters who said that no European side would or could ever win the World Cup on South American soil, there was one team which refused to listen.
Lazy stereotypes often abound when describing German football.
The words ‘organized’, ‘ruthless’ or ‘machine’ are bandied about along with that other cliché, ‘efficient.’
To use those words to describe this German side would not only do it a disservice — it would ignore the wonderful talent which passes through the veins of each and every player.
Germany has long threatened to rule the world.
In 2006, it came close, bowing out at the semifinal stage after a painful defeat by Italy in a tournament held in its own country.
Two years later, it was beaten in the final of the European Championships by Spain before the same opposition ended its World Cup dream in South Africa.
At Euro 2012, Italy once again was its nemesis as Germany fell at the semifinal stage of Euro 2012.
Nobody doubted Germany’s talent — but critics said it did not have the ability to get over the winning line.
The sight of Bastian Schweinsteiger, bloodied and bruised, provided all the insight you needed into the psyche of this German team.
It can do ugly — but it can do beautiful too.
That beauty was there for all to see when Gotze took Andre Schurrle’s cross on his chest and volleyed the ball past the Sergio Romero’s despairing dive.
But in Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, it has steel, in Schweinsteiger it has a warrior and in Thomas Muller it has a man who can do everything.
Few could begrudge Germany this success — it has been the team of the 2014 World Cup.
Germany has thrilled in this tournament. Its 4-0 victory over Portugal was sublime; its 7-1 thrashing of Brazil was mesmerizing.
But this win, secured through guts, fight and a moment of magic from one of its bright new stars showed that Germany overcame the most difficult hurdle of all.
With the game deadlocked at 0-0 after 90 minutes, substitute Gotze provided the game’s defining moment with a touch of magic.
The Bayern Munich star took Schurrle’s pass on his chest before displaying exquisite technique to volley the ball past Sergio Romero.
Argentina, which was beaten by West Germany 1-0 at the 1990 World Cup, rallied briefly but failed to find an equalizer.
Even with the mercurial Lionel Messi in attack, Argentina were unable to take the game to penalties — not that it deserved to.
For all the talk of Messi, it was left to another wonderful talent and his left foot to steal the headlines with the decisive goal.
At least Brazil could smile once again — there is not enough beer in the entire country to distract from the prospect of an Argentine party on the Copacabana.
Argentina failed to muster a single shot on target during the contest — and yet it will walk away ruing three wonderful chances to have won the tie.
With 20 minutes played, Toni Kroos, so impressive throughout the tournament, inexplicably headed the ball over his own defense for Gonzalo Higuain to run through on goal.
The Napoli striker did everything right. He took a touch, allowed the ball to move slightly in front of him and with just Manuel Neuer to beat, then somehow shanked his effort horribly wide.
As Higuain stood still in disbelief and his teammates held their heads in their hands, Germany breathed again.
For a side so assured in its 7-1 victory over Brazil, Germany were rattled by a couple of team changes — just before the final and soon after the game had started.
Deprived of Sami Khedira through injury after the midfielder suffered an injury just before kickoff, Germany’s shape was disrupted further when replacement Christoph Kramer was forced off following a heavy clash with Ezequiel Garay.
As Germany regrouped the South American side constantly looked to use the flanks to exploit a lack of pace in their opponents’ defense.
It was from the right flank which Argentina created the move it thought had provided the crucial breakthrough.
Ezequiel Lavezzi found space on the right before delivering the perfect cross for Higuain to fire home from close range.
As Higuain wheeled away to celebrate and those draped in blue and white danced with joy, the flag of the assistant referee was held aloft after the forward was correctly adjudged to be offside.
Germany, having scored seven in its previous game against Brazil, began to wake from its slumber and only a fine save from Romero prevented Kroos’ fierce drive from nestling in the corner.
But with just a minute of the first half remaining, Romero was forced to thank the woodwork as Argentina got out of jail in dramatic circumstances.
Kroos’ corner dissected the Argentine defense and Benedikt Howedes flew through the air before sending a thunderous header against the post.
Forced to play 120 minutes during its semifinal against the Netherlands, Argentina showed little signs of tiredness and made a rapid start to the second half.
Once again it was Messi causing problems, this time latching onto Lucas Biglia’s through ball before running clear of the German defense.
This was it. This was his moment. The boy from Rosario, the boy who left home at 13 and moved halfway across the world to Barcelona to become the world’s greatest. Destiny beckoned.
He’d been here so many times before. The ball was in his stride, the goalkeeper was advancing, the net was supposed to bulge.
But it didn’t. Messi dragged his shot wide. Argentine hearts sank, Germans stood relieved, almost open mouthed. Messi looked bewildered. Proof that the world’s best player is human after all.
Having seen Argentina contrive to miss two wonderful opportunities, perhaps those in German shirts believed this would be their night.
It certainly had chances to win the contest before the end of 90 minutes with Kroos firing wide from 20-yards, while Schurrle failed to control the ball after moving in on goal.
With an extra day’s rest following its semifnal victory over Brazil, Schurrle brought out a sharp save from Romero as Germany picked up the tempo.
But Argentina remained a threat on the counter attack and substitute Rodrigo Palacio should have done better than hook his effort high and wide after being played through on goal.
With tired limbs and minds beginning to show, the pace of the contest slowed with both sets of players struggling to create any kind of chance.
Challenges began to fly in with Javier Mascherano fortunate to escape a second yellow card, while Schweinsteiger was left with a blood pouring from his face after a clash with Sergio Aguero.
Penalties seemed inevitable. And then it happened.
Schurrle, found space down the left and his cross picked out Gotze, who took the ball on his chest before volleying the ball past Romero and into the far corner.
It was a goal worthy of winning any World Cup — a wonderful strike which came with just seven minutes of the contest remaining.
Argentina tried to respond but while minds were willing, bodies were not. Messi was anonymous, his final effort from a free kick sailing high into the stand.
Those in white turned towards the center circle, the sight of gleaming gold trophy was there for all to see.
A campaign which began with the thrashing with Portugal ended with victory over the team which so many had tipped for victory.
Perhaps Argentina should have known. Never bet against Germany.
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