Messi, Manuel Neuer

Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, left, makes a save on a shot by Argentina forward Lionel Messi during Germany's 1-0 win in the World Cup final Sunday. Argentina failed to capitalize on its scoring opportunities against Germany. (Odd Andersen / AFP/Getty Images / July 13, 2014)

The Argentines couldn't have asked for anything more.

They engineered a pair of shots near enough to feel the goalkeeper's breath, both of which an adult league rec player might have converted.

Their transcendent star found the open spaces he craves, which had been walled off in recent games. Such elbow-and-knee room normally is sufficient for him to finish.

Their defense hindered Germany by rationing only 10 shots, one for every dozen minutes and most of them harmless.

After reviewing the videotape of their 1-0 downer in the World Cup finals, they should incinerate it. Argentina could not have asked for anything more, except for a goal and some minimal marking on the Germans' too-easy score.

"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 for the championship they played.

"It was a very even match," Sabella added. "It had its ups and downs. Our players did extraordinary work."

Good fortune for Argentina began before kickoff when Sami Khedira, Germany's estimable midfielder, hurt a calf muscle while warming up and was scratched. Replacement Christoph Kramer represented a measurable drop-off.

In the 21st minute, Germany handed the Argentines a gift they did not unwrap. Toni Kroos aimed an ill-advised header back toward his goal that was collected by Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain. Staring at a wide-open field, aside from goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, he motored in and inexplicably shot wide left. Neuer had charged out and reduced the shooting angle, but Higuain was left with a lot of netting to aim for.

Had he cashed in, Argentina could have shifted into a prevent defense and played for a doable 1-0 result.

The miss by Higuain, who also was cited twice for sloppy offside infractions, was followed by one from substitute Rodrigo Palacio.

In overtime, Marcos Rojo dropped a heavenly lob into the box for the fresh-legged substitute. Neuer, compelled again to abandon his post, ventured out, leaving the goal unobstructed.

Palacio made a decent decision, going for the bloop shot. His execution was dreadful, and the ball squibbed to the left.

In between, Lionel Messi provided Argentine fans plenty of oohs and aahs, but his sequences ended with Homer Simpson-esque "d'ohs." A couple of shots were weak by his standards. A cross was struck into the box before he noticed that teammates were nowhere near the vicinity.

In the waning moments, the global player of the year sent a header well over the bar, then dispatched a direct free kick that missed by as large a margin as he surely has experienced. For Messi, it seemed a moment of surrender.

"This was our chance, and we felt that way. We couldn't do it. We have to lift our heads and suffer the pain," Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano said. "Obviously, the pain is tremendous."

"We needed to be more efficient," Sabella said.

In the first half, Argentina's strategy of allowing the Germans to toe-tap the ball around without inflicting any damage worked wonders. Their scoring chances were spaced well apart, and none was genuine until just before the break.

Switching gears, Argentina emphasized ball possession from then on. Though the score stayed stuck on zero, the team had taken a game plan from paper to execution better than Germany had.

A penalty-kicks shootout loomed, which probably would have been acceptable to Argentina, having won its semifinal match in that manner. But a backup broke the tie on a marvelous goal, and the Argentines lost despite getting almost everything they could have asked for.

sports@latimes.com

Times staff writer Kevin Baxter and Associated Press contributed to this report.