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On Top of the World: Germany tops Argentina, claims 4th World Cup title

RIO DE JANEIRO — A deserving Germany won its fourth World Cup title, beating Argentina 1-0 on an extra-time goal by Mario Götze that called to mind Andrés Iniesta’s winner for Spain in the final four years ago. But this wasn’t the easy win that many had envisioned for Germany, which struggled to break down a hard-as-nails Argentina team.

For the first time, a European team has won the World Cup held in the Americas—and Brazilians were saved the scene of archrival Argentina and its captain, Lionel Messi, celebrating a World Cup title in the Maracanã Stadium, the spiritual home of Brazilian soccer.

Here are my three quick thoughts on the game:

• This game got a winning goal worthy of a World Cup final

Germany's World Cup title a result of revamped development, identity

For most of this game, Germany had the slightly better performance while Argentina had the better chances (from Gonzalo Higuaín, Lionel Messi and Rodrigo Palacio). But much as in the 2010 World Cup final, just when it seemed like we were headed to penalty kicks, Germany ended things in the run of play before we had to go to the shootout (a horrible way to decide a World Cup final).

In the 113th minute, André Schürrle’s perfectly weighted pass from the left side split the Argentine center backs and was received with tremendous control by Götze, who chested down the ball and finished past Sergio Romero. It was a worthy goal for an occasion this big, one that clinched the fourth World Cup for Germany, the best team of World Cup 2014.

• For Messi, this was a huge missed opportunity

The Argentines performed better than many had expected against a Germany team that destroyed Brazil 7-1, but there will be plenty of regret among the South Americans over the missed chances. For Messi, this was his chance to cement himself among the greatest players of all time by winning his first World Cup.

But after a first half in which Messi was a big influence, his impact waned in the second half after his stunning 47th-minute miss. Messi broke free on the left side and had the ball on his golden left foot for a finish past Manuel Neuer that we’ve seen Messi convert hundreds of times for Barcelona. But this time he sent the shot just wide of the goal, and it seemed to affect Messi afterward.

AWARDS: Golden Ball - Lionel Messi | Golden Glove - Manuel Neuer

He ran very little and even vomited at one point. It was emblematic of his day when he sent his last chance—a free kick late in extra time—way over the bar.

• FIFA’s refusal to address head-injury protocol is a disaster

Brazil falls short, but its World Cup provides unforgettable theater

Project No. 1 for FIFA post-World Cup: Come up with a protocol to address head injuries during a game. For at least the third time in this World Cup, a player suffered a potentially serious head injury only to come back on the field far too soon. This time it was Germany’s Christoph Kramer, a late replacement for the injured Sami Khedira.

In the 17th minute, Kramer’s head collided with Ezequiel Garay after a quick throw-in deep in Argentina territory. Kramer staggered to the ground but came back on, only to come out of the game for good in the 31st minute. FIFA and world soccer simply have to get serious about head injuries, including changes in substitutions—perhaps a fourth temporary sub for head injuries?—that could address the fact that no coach wants to burn one of his precious subs unless he absolutely has to.