ROME, JULY 8 -- It won't go down in history as a beautiful World Cup title match. But justice was served tonight when West Germany took the 14th Cup by a deceptive 1-0 score after dominating Argentina.

The West Germans stayed on the offensive the entire game and only through the worst of luck failed several times to score, finally needing a penalty kick in the 84th minute to win their third Cup. That evened them with Italy and Brazil, and there will be no separate West German team but a unified Germany trying for the Cup in the 1994 renewal in the United States.

A worldwide television audience of more than one billion saw Argentina's Diego Maradona shedding tears after the match because he contended that referee Edgardo Codesal Mendez of Mexico was incorrect in calling the penalty that led to West Germany's winning kick.

"Italy and Germany showed the best style of play," West German Coach Franz Beckenbauer said. "If they had met in the final, it would have been a better match."

Argentina simply could mount no attack playing without four starters who were ineligible because of accumulated fouls. It managed only a single shot on goal, a free kick by Maradona that sailed high.

"It is impossible to win a game when you get only one shot," said Maradona, who was stymied by a suffocating West German defense.

"Maradona is the best," West German captain Lothar Matthaeus said, "but he wasn't the best today."

After some excruciatingly close misses, West Germany set up its score when it once more broke through the Argentine defense. Forward Rudi Voeller was knocked down by Roberto Sensini in the penalty area. It was a referee's decision that could have gone either way.

"In any case, we would have eventually scored," Beckenbauer said.

"Football is my work, my life," Maradona said. "I didn't cry because of second place, but because the referee had no right to blow that penalty against us."

Had the crowd heard his remarks, it would have whistled him all the more. As it was, the majority whistled disapproval any time Maradona touched the ball. "I'm used to getting booed by the Rome and Milan public," said Maradona, who plays for Naples in the Italian league. "I'd be worried if I was booed by my Neapolitan public.

"The players ran hard, but then there came this man who ruined everything for us," he said of the referee. "He was afraid the game would get to penalty kicks" in a shootout.

When the arguments subsided, Andy Brehme took the penalty kick from 12 yards in front of the goal. He made it impossible to stop.

Brehme put the ball just inside the post to his left, and even though Argentina's heroic goalkeeper, Sergio Goycoechea, guessed correctly which way to dive he could not stretch far enough for the perfect placement. "Good luck is on the side of those who dare," said midfielder Matthaeus, "and compensated for all our missed chances."

"We dominated from beginning to end, even though it was only 1-0," said Beckenbauer, the former star sweeper who is retiring after six years as West Germany's coach. "We just didn't have that little bit of luck to put the ball in the net earlier.

"But we would have won the game eventually anyway. We would have continued to be patient and maybe we would have gotten the goal in extra time. Argentina was just too weak for us. But it's not up to us to determine our opponent in the final."

Beckenbauer sidestepped repeated questions about whether he would go the United States to play some role in preparing the American team for the 1994 World Cup, to be played in the United States. Beckenbauer said he would not go to the United States as coach. "I could coach in Germany," he said.

But he left open the possibility of some other position, which he would not specify. "So far," he said, "no one from the United States has called me. They know my number if they want me." Beckenbauer reportedly may be interested in what would be termed a "director of operations," a sort of general manager of the U.S. team.

Beckenbauer, who as a player led West Germany to the World Cup in 1974, said he was "a very, very happy man" to add another Cup as coach. West Germany made the final game the last two times, but lost to Italy, 3-1, in 1982 and Argentina, 3-2, in 1986.

In '86, Maradona was the outstanding player. And he managed to lift Argentina past Brazil in the quarterfinals and Italy in the semifinals in major upsets of this World Cup. But with a penalty-riddled team and an outstanding defensive effort by Guido Buchwald, he had little opportunity tonight.

"We were never in any danger of giving up a goal," Beckenbauer said. "It was apparent from the outset that we were the better team, much more dominant. That's why we went on the attack so easily."

Matthaeus and Thomas Haessler took turns pushing the ball from midfield into scoring position, especially for Voeller and Jurgen Klinsmann. In the opening minute of the second half, Pierre Littbarski hit a line drive just above the crossbar.

Scrambling to keep Argentina even, Goycoechea came out to stop Klaus Augenthaler one on one. The ball got loose, but Argentina's Pedro Troglio kicked it back to Pedro Monzon, who cleared the ball from near the goal line.

It seemed just a matter of time, and the almost 35,000 Germans among the Olympic Stadium crowd of 73,603 kept urging their team on. Monzon helped out when he drew a red card for tripping Klinsmann in the 64th minute. That left Argentina working 10 against 11.

Brehme barely missed to the left as the West Germans persisted and Argentina played for a scoreless tie, its only hope to prolong the game and win on penalty kicks. "They tried to delay it," Beckenbauer said. "They played a non-game. It's too bad for a final match."

"I'm very sad that Argentina only played hard against Italy and not against us," said Brehme, referring to the Argentines' superb performance in the semifinals.

"It was a hard battle," Voeller said. "But we attacked, they didn't."

Following West Germany's goal, Argentina's Gustavo Dezotti received his second yellow card and was ejected in the 86th minute, leaving his side with nine against 11. He had put a hammerlock around Klinsmann's neck, and although the foul was obvious, the Argentine players argued. Earlier Monzon was shown a red card by Codesal and ejected. They were the first expulsions in a World Cup final.

The frustrated Maradona was yellow-carded himself for protesting too much. Several of Argentina's players tried to get close to the referee immediately after the game, but were restrained by Coach Carlos Bilardo and other team officials.

"The black hand of this man expelled Monzon for normal action," Maradona said. "And he called a penalty against us from his imagination."

"My team was prepared for the hostility from the crowd," Bilardo said. "But we were penalized by the absence of several players."

Among those was Claudio Caniggia, who scored Argentina's goals against both Brazil and Italy. Without him, Maradona drifted between his normal midfield position and center-forward. But Argentina rarely managed to control the ball.

Beckenbauer praised Buchwald's marking of Maradona and said that "for our seven games overall I would have to say Buchwald was our most valuable player. I put him up there with Matthaeus, Voeller and Klinsmann."

Matthaeus accepted the trophy and held it aloft, with fireworks and a laser show lighting up Olympic Stadium. The players then took a victory lap -- and another, and another -- surrounded by photographers and applause.

The low-scoring final game was a fitting conclusion to the record low-scoring finals. With increasing emphasis on defense, only 115 goals were scored in the 52 games, an average of 2.21 goals a game. A slightly liberalized offside rule starting next season is expected somewhat to offset the trend to pack midfields and defenses.

Both teams had gotten to the final by winning penalty kick shootouts. First used in the World Cup in 1982, the shootout was heavily criticized by many as an unfair way of deciding such critical games.

"We deserved the World Cup," Beckenbauer said, "because we played at a consistently high level throughout the tournament. We always attacked, giving 90 strong minutes in every game. We really merited it."

.......... Tot. .... Tot. .... Goals

Year ...... Gm ...... Gl ... per gm.

1990 ...... 52 ..... 115 ...... 2.21

1986 ...... 52 ..... 132 ...... 2.54

1982 ...... 52 ..... 146 ...... 2.80

1978 ...... 38 ..... 102 ...... 2.68

1974 ...... 38 ...... 97 ...... 2.55

1970 ...... 32 ...... 95 ...... 2.97

1966 ...... 32 ...... 89 ...... 2.78

1962 ...... 32 ...... 89 ...... 2.78

1958 ...... 35 ..... 126 ...... 3.60

1954 ...... 26 ..... 140 ...... 5.38

1950 ...... 22 ...... 88 ...... 4.00

1938 ...... 18 ...... 84 ...... 4.67

1934 ...... 17 ...... 70 ...... 4.12

1930 ...... 18 ...... 70 ...... 3.89

Totals ... 464 ... 1,439 ...... 3.10

Yr. ..... Final

1990 .... West Germany 1, Argentina 0

1986 .... Argentina 3, West Germany 2

1982 .... Italy 3, West Germany 1

1978 .... Argentina 3, Netherlands 1 (OT)

1974 .... W. Germany 2, Netherlands 1

1970 .... Brazil 4, Italy 1

1966 .... England 4, W. Germany 2 (OT)

1962 .... Brazil 3, Czechoslovakia 1

1958 .... Brazil 5, Sweden 2

1954 .... West Germany 3, Hungary 2

1950 .... Uruguay 2, Brazil 1

1938 .... Italy 4, Hungary 2

1934 .... Italy 2, Czechoslovakia 1 (OT)

1930 .... Uruguay 4, Argentina 2