Sunday, December 18
•Argentina (4)3-3(2) France
Lionel Messi finally won the World Cup after helping Argentina overcome France in a pulsating final at Lusail Stadium.
Messi set the tone when he converted from the spot and Argentina were on course for an easy win when Angel Di Maria doubled the lead before halftime.
But the defending champions, Kylian Mbappe to be specific, roared back with a bang.
Mbappe swept home a penalty and leveled matters a few moments later with another good finish, and nothing could separate the teams after 90 minutes.
Messi grabbed what looked like the winner in extra time, a goal that stood even after a nervous VAR check.
But Mbappe had other ideas when France was awarded another penalty at the other hand, and the PSG striker once again leveled matters, 3-3.
And it necessitated penalties to find the winner; Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez denied Kingsley Coman after Mbappe and Messi had converted.
Aurelian Tchouameni shot wide before Gonzalo Montiel held his nerves to score the winner, and spark off wild celebrations.
An Epic Final to remember
The build-up to the final was Messi against Mbappe duel, but the latter had an edge having won it before in Russia 2018 and also had a good supporting cast of Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele up front.
Such was the variety at Didier Deschamps’ disposal after the holders lost the midfield pair of Ngolo Kante and Paul Pogba and striker Karim Benzema.
Lionel Scaloni, the Argentine coach, who player with Messi before, rung up a big surprise when he started his veteran Angel Di Maria.
And the gamble paid off when the Juventus winger was shoved by Ousmane Dembele for an early penalty that Messi put away.
That goal, made Messi to become the first player to score from the group stages, round of 16, Quarterfinals, semis and final of the World Cup!
Di Maria made his presence felt once again when he was at the end of a good break to finish off after set up by Alexis Mac Allister.
France were crumbling and coach Deschamps took off Giroud and Dembele for Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani.
It’s Muani who was brought down by Nicholas Otamendi for Mbappe to bring France to within a goal. It looked like a consolation with 10 minutes to go.
But then Mbappe needed two more minutes to get an equaliser with a beautiful volley, and the scenes were reminiscent of that Argentina’s 2-2 draw with Netherlands when the Dutch came from the dead as well.
In extra-time, Argentina had two chances to pull ahead, but both wasted by substitute Lautaro Martinez.
Then the moment arrived. Martinez once again denied by Lloris, but this time Messi was in the right place to pounce on a rebound, it was cleared by a French defender who was already behind the goal line. The goal stood after VAR check for a possible offside in the build up.
It looked like Messi had won it, a script well written. But wait, Mbappe was still on the pitch.
Mbappe had his shot blocked with a hand, and the referee pointed to the spot. He converted 3-3. First hat-trick in a World Cup final since Sir Geoff Hurst scored one for England against Germany in 1966.
Muani almost won it for France but Martinez sprawled on the ground to pull out a classic save that sent the game to penalties.
And it’s in the shootouts where Argentina held their breathe to win 4-2.
Messi’s Puzzle Complete
The World Cup has been the only missing piece in Lionel Messi’s puzzle.
The little magician narrowly missed out on this trophy back in 2014 when they lost to Germany, and going to Qatar, this was his last shot at greatness.
Messi has had an illustrious career especially at club level where he won 10 La Liga and four champions League trophies at Barcelona among others.
His 2021 Copa America triumph was all he could show for Argentina in a senior shirt.
And the long standing debate with Cristiano Ronaldo was still raging on, but with a World Cup title now under his belt, the seven-time balloon dor winner is by many better than Pele and country-mate Diego Maradona.
Messi, as it was in 2014, was named the Most Valuable Player uer of the tournament.
Mbappe took the golden boot after scoring eight goals, one behind Messi. Emiliano Martinez and Enzo Fernandez won best goalkeeper and youngest player of the tournament.
Roll of Honour
1954: West Germany
1974: West Germany
1990: West Germany