Lionel Messi walked up the steps at the Maracana. It was at the end of 120 minutes of today's gripping World Cup final and the Argentine was collecting a revered golden trophy, one befitting his status as the greatest player of his generation.
Still though, Messi wore a look of anguish. The trophy he was receiving was the Golden Ball awarded to the World Cup's best player, scant consolation for missing out on the big prize which sat within touching distance, but as far away as ever.
''It is a sad prize that I won because we wanted to lift the trophy for Argentina,'' he said, as if the look on his face had not already said it all.
For two hours, in front of almost 75,000 howling football fans, Messi failed to produce that special magic for which he is renowned, and was unable to lead his team to World Cup glory.
Instead, Germany broke the South American stranglehold on World Cups held in the Americas, and won a fourth title to add to the trophies won by West Germany in 1954, 1974 and 1990.
Messi will surely long reflect on this match, one which could have gilded his already sparkling reputation, but which instead will sit like a stain on his resume.
It took him two minutes to get his first touch of the ball with a cushioned chest from a throw-in and 118 minutes later he had his last with a free kick lashed high over the German bar.
Messi's chance of adding a World Cup crown to his staggering haul of football treasure had disappeared in a Maracana cauldron of noise.
The greatest player of his generation grimaced, smiled and looked up into the Rio de Janeiro night sky. The magical Messi had been unable to unlock the world's best team and Germany were champions.
Their 1-0 victory had been a thunderous contest, full of robust tackles and it was a match Messi had been unable to stamp his authority over.
There had been some nice jinks and deft touches from the 27-year-old. A shot had gone close, a late header had lifted some sections of the stadium out of their seats.
But in the final analysis, there had been rather too much trotting in the centre of the pitch, in that tight, tidy compact way he has - head a little stooped, legs a little bandy.
Messi was neither the conductor of this Argentine team, nor its heartbeat. He proved on this occasion to be a peripheral character, showing flashes of brilliance, but little influence.
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella stalked on the sidelines, immaculate in a blue suit, but often bent at the waist and gesticulating wildly, trying to urge his captain on.
Messi, however, seemed to have little energy or vision. As the first half wore on frustration told and he started charging around after the ball, chasing it as Germans crisply passed it between themselves.
When jinking, he invariably ran into a sea of white shirts and his shooting was unusually off range.
He came closest at the beginning of the second half when a curling shot flashed only centimetres wide. But soon passes started to go awry, always followed by plaintive apologies, and his runs became rarer.
By midway through the second half, Messi resembled a golfer taking a carefree stroll, only really switching on when required to take a shot.
Then it became a slower walk. Then he was standing, hands on hips, leaning on first one leg and then the other.
He managed a header deep in extra time but that was from far out and would never bother the immense Neuer, eventually floating high.
But in the dying seconds the scene was hastily set for a Messi masterpiece and a golden opportunity for redemption.
Fouled by Bastian Schweinsteiger, the Argentine lined up his free kick some 30 yards from Neuer's goal.
The German players formed a defensive wall, their fans squirmed in their seats - everyone has seen what Messi can do in this situation.
But on a clear Brazilian night on the soil of his country's most bitter soccer enemy, he blasted his shot high over the goal and Argentina's last chance was gone.
Messi and his teammates were beaten, Germany had won, Messi once more left the stage without the ultimate vindication of his talent.
MAGIC FROM MARIO
Mario Goetze's superb extra-time volley sealed victory for Germany today when with only seven minutes remaining in the final today the game seemed headed for penalties.
The strike was set up when Germany winger Andre Schuerrle escaped down the left and sent in a spinning cross that the 22-year-old substitute controlled on his chest before slamming the ball past keeper Sergio Romero.
The magical strike meant Germany broke the South American stranglehold on World Cups held in the Americas, and Goetze became the first substitute to score the winner in the final.
''All of Germany is world champion now,'' the winners' immense goalkeeper Manuel Neuer said.
Only Brazil, with five World Cups, have won the trophy more times.
''We're going to celebrate for at least five weeks now. At some point we'll stop celebrating but we'll always keep waking up with a smile,'' Neuer added.
It will be a richly deserved smile.
As badly as all of Argentina hankered for a triumph in Brazil, Germany were worth their win over a subdued Messi and his teammates who counter-attacked dangerously, but lacked the killer touch in front of goal, failing to get a shot on target.
Messi, attempting to emulate the great Diego Maradona by leading Argentina to a World Cup triumph, had a poor final which was summed up with almost the last kick of the game when he had a chance to equalise with a free kick 30 metres out.
Although the scoreline was the same as West Germany's 1-0 win over Argentina in 1990, it never reflected that dour game in Rome and had far more in common with their exciting final in 1986 which a Maradona-inspired Argentina won 3-2 in Mexico City.
Both teams went looking to create chances in an open, attacking match that proved a real contrast in styles.
Germany passed and moved the ball around far more than Argentina who relied on counter attacks but with scant reward.
''We gave it all, all our bodies could endure,'' Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano said.
''The pain is immense because we wanted to take the cup back to Argentina.
''The pain will last forever.''
Germany's preparations were rocked before kickoff when midfielder Sami Khedira, one of the tournament's best players, pulled a calf muscle in the warm-up.
He was replaced by Christoph Kramer, who had only played for 12 minutes as a substitute against Algeria and France.
But Kramer only lasted 32 minutes before a collision with Ezequiel Garay's shoulder left him looking dazed and confused.
Germany coach Joachim Loew replaced him with Schuerrle in an attacking midfield role with Mesut Ozil dropping back into a more defensive position.
Germany still dominated possession and came close to making their superiority pay off when Benedikt Hoewedes headed powerfully against a post just before the interval, although a linesman's flag was up for offside.
Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain should have done far better before that, though, when he was gifted a chance in the 20th minute following a careless header towards his own goal by Germany midfielder Toni Kroos.
The loose ball went straight to Argentina's Higuain, but with only Neuer to beat, he dragged his shot embarrassingly wide.
Ten minutes later he swept the ball home after a perfect cross from Ezequiel Lavezzi and went on a long celebratory run thinking he had scored, but he was rightly flagged offside.
Four-times World Player of the Year Messi did have a good chance two minutes after the break when he escaped the shackles of the defence but his angled left-foot shot went narrowly wide.
As the half progressed there was an air of inevitability that the match would move into extra time, although Kroos could have settled it if he had struck an 82nd-minute shot with greater accuracy instead of side-footing the ball wide.
A pivotal moment came in the 88th minute when Miroslav Klose, Germany's 36-year-old striker who set the all-time World Cup scoring record of 16 goals in the demolition of Brazil, went off to be replaced by the baby-faced Goetze.
Klose, playing in his fourth and last World Cup, was given a standing ovation as he left the field, but an even greater German celebration was drawing closer.
Argentina could have broken the deadlock in the first period of extra time when exhausted defender Mats Hummels allowed substitute Rodrigo Palacio a chance to score but Neuer came out fast and the forward lobbed his effort wide.
The decisive moment was not far away, however, and it gave the World Cup a fitting finale.
Goetze took the ball down on his chest brilliantly from Schuerrle's cross and sweetly fired home the 171st goal of the tournament to equal the record set in France in 1998.
STUNNED TO SILENCE
German's win broke the heart of a nation, leaving millions of disconsolate Argentines to contemplate a defeat that deprived the South American country of its first World Cup win in almost three decades.
In downtown Buenos Aires' San Martin park, a boisterous crowd was stunned into silence by a Mario Goetze volley in extra-time which gave Germany a 1-0 win in the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro.
Distraught fans held their heads in their hands as the final minutes ticked down.
At the final whistle, television pictures showed supporters across the city defiantly waving flags and applauding their team, with chants of ''Argentina, Argentina,'' ringing out.
''It's another slap in the face. There is no more joy, but we came out second and were not shamed in Brazil,'' said 40-year-old Eduardo Manfredi.
The hopes of 40-million people had been heaped on the shoulders of the national side - in particular Lionel Messi, one of the world's greatest players, and in-form goal keeper Sergio Romero.
Hours before the game started, fans in the soccer-obsessed capital streamed along the city's boulevards blowing vuvuzela horns and banging drums, while some even dressed up their pampered pooches in soccer strips tailor made for dogs.
Argentina has won the World Cup twice, most recently in 1986 when they defeated West Germany in the final.
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