Missed Chances Come Back to Haunt Argentina in Agonising World Cup Final Defeat

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Missed Chances Come Back to Haunt Argentina in Agonising World Cup Final Defeat
Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

"This pain will last a lifetime."

Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano speaks just as he plays: always with the heart on his sleeve.

Close to tears after watching Argentina fall cruelly short in the World Cup final against Germany, the Barcelona star gave a stark description of his pain to reporters as the reality of defeat, confirmed by Mario Goetze's smart finish in the dying minutes of extra time, sunk in.

Mascherano's reaction sums up the feeling of a nation, desperate in equal measures to both banish memories of an equally narrow defeat in 1990 to the same opponents and put an end to 28 painful years without a World Cup title. He was a hero throughout the tournament, putting his body on the line to drag the Albiceleste to the final. 

In the end, however, it was not enough. Argentina could not fulfil the dream of a third World Cup, made all the sweeter by the chance to lift the trophy in the Maracana, the symbol of Brazilian football. It will be made all the more frustrating given the fact that over 120 minutes the nation had every chance to end as victors. 

More superstitious fans may have felt that fate would not be on the Albiceleste side from the very first minutes.

Gonzalo Higuain was clean through on goalkeeper Manuel Neuer when Toni Kroos headed straight into the forward's path as he retreated back to the offside line. The Napoli hitman at least had to hit the target, but perhaps the pressure got to him. The wonderful chance rolled wide as Germany breathed a collective sigh of relief. 

Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

Captain Lionel Messi and substitute Rodrigo Palacio later joined Pipita in that roll of shame, squandering golden opportunities to put Argentina ahead in the second half and in extra time.

Messi's chance, coming in from an angle as Neuer rapidly closed, could be excused for rolling inches wide of the goalkeeper's far post. Palacio's errorhe inexplicably tried to chip when the situation called for a shot driven low towards the netwill linger a little longer in the memory as a great chance wasted. 

Indeed, Messi's Golden Ball prize seemed almost an apology from FIFA, as the Barcelona wizard failed to get going in the final. There were mitigating circumstances: The unavailability of Angel Di Maria and Ezequiel Lavezzi's curious substitution at half-time left Argentina a static, laboured unit going forward. 

Messi was left trying to create a spark from deep in midfield and came up short. It was La Pulga's best World Cup to date, but with the injuries of Di Maria and Aguero he lost the two team-mates most important to helping Argentina fire on all cylinders. 

The contrast with Germany could not have been clearer. Joachim Low's men, as expected, dominated possession across the 120 minutes, bearing down on goal multiple times as Argentina effectively ceded control of the midfield in favour of recovering and countering from deep.

The tactic seemed to work. Despite their control, Die Mannschaft struggled to create real chances throughout the game. A header from Benedikt Howedes steered onto the post constituted arguably their best opportunity before Goetze's goal. 

But the Bayern Munich man, unlike his adversaries in blue, did not err when the moment finally came. Chesting down Andre Schurrle's fine cross after a rare moment of instability in the Albiceleste back line, Gotze did not blink as he shut the oncoming Sergio Romero out of his mind. 

He knew where the goal was, and he knew where Argentina's No. 1 was. He fired low and true on the volley, breaking 40 million hearts in Buenos Aires and across the nation while ending Germany's own long wait for a fourth World Cup title. 

"I feel a great sadness for not being able to win, but I am proud of the team," coach Alejandro Sabella stated to reporters after the game. He has every right to be.

Argentina were not the most scintillating team across the World Cup, but their heart and determination was an example for many teams to learn from, not least the demoralised hosts. Thousands of people once more crowded the streets of Argentina following the final whistle, showing that the players will return as heroes. 

But that nagging feeling will not go away. It could have been so much better for the Albiceleste, and those missed chances proved the decisive factors in a gripping World Cup final. 

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