ROME, JULY 8 -- For today at least, the capital of Germany was Rome.

About 40,000 Germans, including Chancellor Helmut Kohl, descended on this city to see West Germany win the World Cup soccer title tonight, 1-0, over Argentina. More than 100 nations fielded teams in a tournament that began two years ago, all leading up to this night and this game.

"Never has the image of our football reached such a level," said Franz Beckenbauer, a former star player who is retiring as coach after six years. With a united Germany playing in the 1994 Cup, Beckenbauer added: "The German team will be unbeatable. I'm sorry about that for the rest of the world."

A small number of East Germans joined the throng of fans here, mostly from Dresden and Magdeburg. With some 35 million West and East Germans following today's game on television, the World Cup was seen as one more vehicle -- and the first involving sports -- lending impetus to German unification.

Both West and East Germans have been following the month-long World Cup finals on television and -- since East Germany's team did not qualify as one of the 24 teams competing here -- have been rooting passionately for the West German team, which won five games outright, another on penalty kicks and tied a first-round game. Many more fans from East Germany are expected to attend the World Cup in 1994, when it will be held in the United States.

"They don't have much money now," a West German journalist said. "Next World Cup, they will be there in force."

West Germany took this 14th World Cup by dominating Argentina, weakened by the absence of four starters who were ineligible because of accumulated fouls in previous games. Attacking hard for the entire game, the West Germans could not put the ball in the goal until they were awarded a penalty kick in the 84th minute.

Dangerous scorer Rudi Voeller broke behind the Argentine defense and was fouled in the penalty area by Roberto Sensini. Andy Brehme took the kick from the penalty spot 12 yards in front of the goal. He made an almost perfect shot, just inside the post to his left to beat diving goaltender Sergio Goycoechea.

West Germany stifled Argentina's Diego Maradona, hero of the 1986 World Cup. A free kick that Maradona sailed over the net in the 38th minute was Argentina's only shot on goal in the game.

The outcome came as a delight to the almost 35,000 Germans in the Olympic Stadium crowd of 73,603. They roared approval and waved their country's flags as West Germany joined Italy and Brazil as the only teams to win three World Cups and avenged a 1986 title-game loss to Argentina.

These teams being in the final was not unexpected, but some events in the competition were. Cameroon, which started with an upset of Argentina and reached the quarterfinals before losing to England in overtime, caught the world's imagination with its success. After a crushing 5-1 defeat to Czechoslovakia, the young U.S. team finished with two close losses before bowing out of its first finals in 40 years. Tiny Costa Rica reached the second round, and Ireland, in its first finals, made the quarterfinals before falling, 1-0, to Italy, whose semifinal loss to Argentina was a surprise of another kind for the host country.

Perhaps the biggest upset of the event was having England's team draw more attention than its notorious fans. With a large contingent of Italian police, aided by British personnel, following the English fans from site to site, the feared level of violence never materialized. And that left the focus on the games.

Thousands of Germans here resorted to watching the championship on television because they didn't have tickets. Thousands of others bought tickets on the streets near Olympic Stadium.

West Germany's victory over England in the semifinals Wednesday night in Turin, Italy, set off unprecedented celebrations in both East and West Germany and helped swell the influx of German visitors here.

At least 3,000 arrived by train Saturday at Rome's main station, The Termini; thousands of other late arrivals came by bus and car. Hundreds hitchhiked. Young people with backpacks carried West German flags and air horns. Hundreds slept in a park near the stadium. About 5,000 Italian police were on duty in the vicinity of the stadium, but West German and Argentine fans mingled without incident before the game. And there were no reports of the postgame celebration getting out of hand.

"There's big action in Germany over football," said Walter Lowman of Nuremberg, who got here by train Friday and bought a ticket outside the stadium for about $250. "After the victory {over England}, people ran into the streets. They stopped cars. They were screaming, celebrating the victory.

"There's changing behavior in Germany. Before, we were not so enthusiastic. We change a little."

By comparison, about 12,000 Argentine fans came here to see the game, including about 2,500 who work in Italy, Spain and France. Their team simply was too weakened by the missing starters to put up much of a battle. Beckenbauer said Argentina played "a non-game."

It didn't matter to the happy Germans. "I came to win," said Otto Konrad of Munich. "At home, even the girls are talking about football. They didn't care before. Now they are all nervous. It is fantastic."

Uta Brands of Hannover, West Germany, accompanied a group who rented a mini-bus. She said the women slept last night in the bus and the men on the grass outside the stadium. "The only thing people are talking about is football," she said.

Forty busloads of German fans, mostly elderly and children, left the downtown Piazza del Popolo for the stadium in a caravan three hours before the game. Entrances to the stadium were jammed with fans carrying the West German flag.

"In 1984 when I was asked to become head of the team, the situation was disastrous," Beckenbauer said. "We had the media against us. The public image of our football was not complete. In six years I can say that I have realized my objective. Today the people love this national team.

"The players are united like they've never been before. The image of German football is at a maximum level in its history. We are the true nation of soccer."