Lionel Messi achieved World Cup glory as Argentina topped France in a chaotic, enchanting final
It seemed unfair, after waves of pulse, that if Sunday’s imperfect football had produced the greatest theater of play this tournament had ever seen, then a penalty shoot-out should decide the winner.
But when Gonzalo Montiel slotted his effort into the left corner, sealing a 4-2 decider after a stunning 3-3 draw, Argentina didn’t bother with the necessary means. For the first time since 1986, Argentina were world champions – and their ingenious striker, Lionel Messi, could finally add one final piece of glory to his extraordinary career.
“It’s crazy to get real that way,” Messi said. “I’m craving this so much… I had a feeling that this [World Cup] was the person.”
Messi, 35, scored two goals and played a role in another goal, but the player who was on his way to succeed him as the best player in the world, Frenchman Kylian Mbappe, scored a hat-trick in front of a crowd of 88,966 spectators at Lusail Stadium. He became the first men’s player to do so in a World Cup final since England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966.
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Two days before his 24th birthday – and after 4 1/2 years helping France win the title in Russia – Mbappe won the Golden Boot as the tournament’s eight-goal champion. Messi finished with seven.
It was an amazing match. France came back from a two-goal deficit late in regulation, with Messi and Mbappe both scoring in the second half of extra time and Argentine Emiliano Martinez saving penalties.
“The match was completely crazy,” said Argentine coach Lionel Scaloni.
In the penalty shootout – the first in a World Cup final since 2006 – Martinez made two saves and his teammates converted all four attempts. Martínez was also the hero in the quarter-final against the Netherlands, a penalty necessitated by Argentina’s failure to take a two-goal lead late in normal time.
Argentina’s previous World Cup victory came in June 1986 at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City – a year before Messi was born.
“These players played for their people, for their Argentine fans. Everyone was going in the same direction. It’s the greatest feeling when you play for your country. The players understand what they have to do,” said Scaloni, 44, who is the youngest winning coach since 1978. We are very happy and very proud. Today we are champions.”
For Messi, the tournament concluded a frustrating journey after four failed performances. It has been eight years since Messi’s first World Cup final appearance ended in defeat to Germany. It had been six years since a short-lived retirement, caused by yet another Argentina lack of a major tournament, the Copa América, after which he declared: “I tried so hard to be a champion with Argentina. It didn’t happen. I’m not able to do it.”
With the World Cup title, Messi will finally join Argentine icon Diego Maradona as world champion and allay criticism that he cannot be considered the greatest player of all time because he did not win the sport’s most prestigious trophy.
Messi’s fortunes began to turn around last year when he won, for the first time, the Copa América, the South American championship.
He entered this tournament saying it was going to be the World Cup finals. However, Scaloni said, “If he wants to keep playing, he’ll be with us.”
Argentina qualified for the World Cup on a 36-match unbeaten streak – only to lose their group opener to a yet-to-be-announced Saudi Arabia. Since that setback, Argentina have gone undefeated and have led 2-0 in every match.
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France was trying to win back-to-back titles for the first time since Pelé and Brazil did in 1958-62. With three key players lost to injury before the tournament, Les Bleus expected to fall into the second tier of contenders and only dream of another trophy. But here they are, after defeating England in the quarter-finals and avoiding Morocco’s surprise bid in the semi-finals.
On Sunday, their title hopes were dashed when Mbappe scored in the 80th and 81st minutes, 90 seconds apart.
“We managed to come back from the dead,” said French coach Didier Deschamps.
From the start, Argentina was fresher and hungrier. France could not keep up. Argentina were curious about the attack, looking for an opportunity to break through France’s steadfast resistance and put their mark on the match.
“We didn’t show the same energy as in previous games, and that’s why we weren’t in the game for the first hour or so,” said Deschamps.
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Mbappe has been left out of date. He rarely touched the ball, even more rarely when he was in a dangerous position. With 20 minutes to go, the game remained scoreless, but the defending champions were increasingly agitated by the proceedings.
Argentina’s breakthrough came in the 23rd minute, from a penalty kick for Messi. What led to this was the slight slackness and slackness in defense by Frenchman Ousmane Dembele. Angel Di Maria cut the ball sharply near the finish line, leaving Dembele in the dust. His push, followed by a simple clip from Di Maria’s heels, sent the Argentine winger sprawling.
Messi’s conversion rate is below world class, but at the moment he took care of the work by slashing his 12-yard shot into the right side as Hugo Lloris fouled the other way.
The Argentines’ second goal was elegant, sophisticated and brilliant – a perfectly executed counter-attack that flowed from one end to the other in a matter of seconds with economical touches on the ball.
It began in the 36th minute with Rodrigo de Paul winning the ball and supplying Alexis McAllister, who Messi put a clever touch on Julian Alvarez in midfield. All the while, Mac Allister kept running. Alvarez touched the ball in front of McAllister with one touch and raced towards the green.
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He noticed Di Maria running free on the other side, and when he caught Alvarez’s pass in the top of the penalty area, he volleyed in a cross that met Di Maria in one step for a one-time finish.
Deschamps and France were in trouble. In the 41st minute, he made the highly unusual decision to substitute not one, but two players before the break. Dembele and striker Olivier Giroud (four goals) were eliminated.
In the second half, France played with more urgency and risk, but Argentina were up to the task. As the tournament approached, the crowd chanted, “Mayhem, Messi!”
France was not ready to concede. Argentina’s Nicolas Otamendi pulled substitute Randall Kolo Mwani into the penalty area, and with Mbappe’s penalty falling under Martinez’s glove, France got back at it.
Everything was flowing down the road to France. In controlling most of the cold night, it was now Argentina that had massive problems.
Adrien Rabiot raised the ball to Mbappe, who headed it to substitute Marcus Thuram in the top of the penalty area. Mbappe left Nahuel Molina in his wake. Thuram returned it to him. With his torso spinning, Mbappe got full force behind a 15-yard shot that beat Martinez into the far bottom corner.
Interestingly, the match was even.
“We controlled the game, but we were destined to suffer,” Martinez said.
Argentina was lucky not to lose in regulation. Mbappe loomed large in every foray. In stoppage time, Lloris was called on to save Messi’s 25-yard kick.
For the fourth time in five World Cups, extra time awaits.
Argentina had three chances late in the first 15 minutes, but in each case, the French defenders stepped in. There was no stopping Messi at the start of the next session.
Lloris produced a superb reaction that saved Lautaro Martinez’s angled effort, but Messi was in place to push the rebound over the line in the 108th minute, a moment before Jules Conde cleared him. He became the oldest player to score two goals in a final.
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France did not finish, and after Montiel used his arm to block a shot, Mbappe stepped up to the penalty spot again in the 118th minute and slotted home the penalty kick.
Kolo Muani could have won it in overtime in stoppage time, but Martínez made a wonderful one-on-one save.
“He really made his mark in the final,” Deschamps said of Mbappe. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out the way he would have liked.
Mbappe will undoubtedly enjoy many unforgettable moments on the biggest stage in football. On Sunday, he conceded it to Messi.
“I dreamed about it many times,” said Messi. “I wanted it so much. I can’t believe it.”
World Cup in Qatar
Last: Argentina won the World Cup, defeating France on penalties in a thrilling final Sunday in Lusail, Qatar, in their first world championship since 1986. Argentina was led by world soccer star Lionel Messi in what is expected to be his final World Cup appearance. . France was trying to become the first repeat champions since Brazil won back-to-back titles in 1958 and 1962.
WorldView today: In the minds of many pundits, especially in the West, the Qatar World Cup will always be a tournament shrouded in controversy. But Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, wants people to take a different view.
impression:America is not funny about men’s soccer right now. It’s about something, and it’s more in keeping with what works for the rest of the world than stubbornly forcing American sports culture—without tapping the best talent—into international competition.” Read Jerry Brewer about the future of the US men’s national team.
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