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Gotze journeys from sub to legend

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Between the first and second halves of extra time, Germany manager Joachim Low pulled Mario Gotze close to his side. Gotze had come on with just minutes remaining in normal time for Miroslav Klose, and early in the first extra-time period he had set up fellow substitute Andre Schurrle with a clear chance, only for Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero to repel the effort.

But with the Albiceleste showing signs of fatigue -- and Lionel Messi looking well short of his best -- Low sensed that Gotze was capable of something special, and decided a pep talk was in order.

"I said to Gotze, 'OK, show to the world that you're better than Messi and you can decide the World Cup. You have the possibilities to do just that,'" he recalled. "I had a good feeling with him."

Low's hunch proved utterly prescient, as Gotze gathered in Schurrle's cross in the 113th minute and volleyed past Romero to give the Nationalmannschaft a 1-0 victory, and their fourth World Cup.

As Gotze surveyed the scene after the final whistle, the look on his face was like that of a child on Christmas morning who had received everything he could possibly have wanted. And in a way, he had.

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"It's an unbelievable feeling," he said after he accepted the man of the match award. "I don't know how to describe it. You just shoot that goal and you don't really know what's happening. The very end of the match is indescribable, having a party with the team, with the whole country. A dream became reality. It is for us really a dream come true. I'm more than happy, and I'm very proud of the team and of what happened here in Brazil. ... It is absolutely sensational."

It was certainly a night when Germany's substitutes came up big while Argentina's provided little. Schurrle entered the match after just 32 minutes when Christoph Kramer, himself a late addition for the injured Sami Khedira, was forced off with what looked to be concussion-like symptoms. The Chelsea winger's energy and attacking drive were a handful for much of the match.

Argentina, on the other hand, received little to no contributions at all from Sergio Aguero, Rodrigo Palacio and Fernando Gago. Aguero's halftime insertion for Ezequiel Lavezzi -- who had done plenty to unsettle the German defense with his dynamic runs -- was especially puzzling.

Low had a deeper well from which to draw from, although he certainly could have been forgiven for overlooking Gotze. The past year has not been at all kind to the former Borussia Dortmund man.

The 2013-14 season saw him attempt to adapt to a new club in Bayern Munich, as well as to the unique style of manager Pep Guardiola. While Gotze scored 14 goals in 42 appearances, he was by no means the ever-present force that he had been while leading Dortmund to two Bundesliga crowns. During the crunch of the UEFA Champions League semifinals against Real Madrid, Gotze had been reduced to a substitute's role.

Mario Gotze celebrates the goal that delivered Germany its fourth World Cup.

In Brazil, the same script had largely played out for Gotze. He started Germany's tournament-opening victory over Portugal, as well as the 2-2 draw against Ghana, but his role soon diminished. He started the round-of-16 match against Algeria, but was substituted at halftime. He played a total of seven minutes in the quarterfinal and semifinal. Yet Low didn't lose faith in the 22-year-old attacker.

"Gotze is a miracle boy. He can play everything, [a] boy wonder," said Low. "In any position he has superior technical quality. I know that he's always able to decide a match when it is decisive and it was a great decider he scored today."

Indeed, and Gotze's gratitude was evident as he spoke of the match -- and the year -- that had just passed.

"It wasn't a simple year for me, wasn't a simple tournament," he said, citing his family, girlfriend and other close friends for inspiring him to keep working through the difficult periods.

"That [support] is very important," Gotze added. "It was not simple, but I'm simply happy that the team, together with me, was able to get this title."

And the substitute will now forever be remembered as a legend.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.