Lionel Messi has longed his whole career to win the FIFA World Cup. On an extraordinary night in Lusail Stadium, when Messi and Kylian Mbappe lived up to their heavyweight billing, the Argentina genius must have felt he won it three times.
Mbappe became only the second man after England’s Sir Geoff Hurst to score a World Cup final hat-trick, but it is Messi who takes the spoils, if not the adidas Golden Boot, won by eight-goal Mbappe. Not that Messi will mind his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate winning that race. Messi opened the scoring and looked destined for a straightforward triumph until France recovered from 2-0 down to send the game to extra-time.
Messi struck to restore Argentina’s lead but Mbappe equalised for a second time. Messi and Mbappe both scored at the beginning of the shootout, but Emiliano Martinez saved from Kingsley Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni fired wide, leaving unheralded Gonzalo Montiel to convert the winning kick. Argentina hadn’t scored in their two previous final appearances – in 1990 and 2014 – but the South Americans had two goals before half-time and could legitimately have argued they deserved more.
Messi broke the deadlock. Of course, he did. Angel Di Maria did the legwork, deceiving Ousmane Dembele to skip into the box before a nudge in the back from the Frenchman sent Di Maria tumbling. Messi nonchalantly rolled his penalty right and Hugo Lloris dived in the opposite direction.
Lionel Scaloni’s irresistible team were swarming all over the 2018 champions. And when France were hurried out of possession high on their left, Argentina briskly swept upfield. Julian Alvarez eventually released Alexis Mac Allister, who guided a perfect ball along the floor to the back post, where Di Maria arrived unaccompanied to defeat Lloris with a controlled strike.
Didier Deschamps, seeking to inject zip and intent, withdrew Dembele and Olivier Giroud in favour of Randal Kolo Muani and Marcus Thuram on 41 minutes. Argentina remained in the ascendancy, nonetheless, and Lloris was repeatedly worked after the break. But the remarkable Mbappe, hitherto barely involved, delivered a staggering 97-second one-two to haul France level.
Kolo Muani dashed behind the Argentina backline, initiating panic in Nicolas Otamendi, who illegally impeded the attacker’s progress in the area. Martinez leapt the right way but couldn’t keep out Mbappe’s crunching strike.
The game had barely restarted when Coman relieved Messi of possession to instigate another raid. Mbappe cushioned Adrien Rabiot’s aerial ball back for Thuram, then darted forwards to meet the flighted return with a volley that flew past Martinez. France pinned back visibly rattled Argentina but couldn’t claim the winner, while Lloris tipped over a rising drive from Messi at the death.
Argentina regained their composure in time for the extra half hour. Dayot Upamecano bravely blocked a goalbound strike from Lautaro Martinez, who was narrowly wide with another effort.
It needed Lloris’s outstanding reflexes to repel Martinez early in the second half of extra-time. But there was no denying Messi on the follow up, not even Upamecano desperately trying to clear from the line.Argentina: Montiel celebrates winning spot-kickWatch as Gonzalo Montiel celebrates scoring Argentina’s winning penalty in the FIFA World Cup™ Final.
Still, France refused to yield. Montiel used an arm to block an Mbappe effort and the nerveless 23-year-old sent his penalty unerringly into the left corner. Both teams could have won it at the very end. Martinez did exceptionally well to save one-on-one from Kolo Muani, then an unmarked Lautaro Martinez headed wide from in front of goal.
To paraphrase former England manager Sir Alf Ramsey, Argentina had won it twice and had to win it all over again. They did just that to claim a third World Cup and first since 1986. And to give Messi the prize he so wanted to add to a glittering personal treasure trove.
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