RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella heaped praise on his team after Sunday's 1-0 World Cup final defeat by Germany on Sunday, saying they gave their all but lacked cutting edge in front of goal during an even game.
"They played a fantastic World Cup. There's nothing to blame them for," a drained-looking Sabella said at a news conference after Mario Goetze's extra time volley sunk his team.
"Today we had our chances but we just lacked efficiency. In general terms, though, I am very proud. Beyond the pain of defeat they can look each other in the eye, and look in the mirror, and know they gave their all for Argentina."
Striker Gonzalo Higuain missed Argentina's best chance when a careless header towards his own goal by Germany's Tony Kroos put him put him clear with only Manuel Neuer to beat, but he dragged his shot wide.
Messi saw plenty of the ball but got few breakthroughs, only escaping his markers once but angling a shot wide.
"This was a very even match. They (Germany) are a great team. The match had its ups and downs. Germany had greater command of play and possession. Our games are very similar and when there are chances, you have to convert," Sabella said.
"Then in these big games, if you make a mistake and let a goal in, it's very difficult to come back. But the only thing I can do is congratulate my players, they did an extraordinary job, and congratulate Germany for the title."
Sabella, whose agent has said he would stand down after the World Cup final, declined to discuss his future.
"The future for me in this moment is to be with the players, to be with the coaching staff, to be with my family, to rest a bit. About the future, I can’t really say anything," he said.
PRAISE FOR MESSI
Asked if Messi had missed a chance to join the world's greats by not winning the World Cup, Sabella said the Argentina captain and Barcelona forward had already answered that debate.
"I think Lionel reached the pantheon of the greats a while back," he said, adding that Messi fully deserved his "Golden Ball" award for best player. "He played a great World Cup to get us where he did. I think it's very deserved."
The coach described the mood among his charges in Argentina's dressing room as sombre.
"It is the silence of the warrior because they were warriors. They left their skin out there, their last drop of sweat on the pitch," he said.
"The players are very bitter. We had a great dream. We wanted to win the final. To be perfect, we had to be more efficient. I'm sad like the players. On the one hand, it's a normal pain to have not won. But on the other, I'm satisfied because the group gave their all, they're a marvellous group."
Argentina should be praised and remembered for reaching their first final since 1990, he said.
"I leave with a double feeling – the frustration of not achieving the dream, but also the satisfaction of having fulfilled our duty to give 100 percent."
Midfielder Javier Mascherano summed up the players' disappointment.
"We gave what we could and we are sorry for the people who came and for the people in Argentina," he said.
"Unfortunately the pain is going to be for life because this was our opportunity. That's what we felt. Football is like that. We'll have to lift our heads to try and bear the pain."
(Additional reporting by Paulo Prada and Javier Leira, Editing by Nigel Hunt)