It seemed unfair that a penalty shootout would have to decide the winner when Sunday’s lackluster football provided the greatest championship game theater the tournament has ever seen.
But Argentina didn’t care what the means were when Gonzalo Montiel fired his effort into the left corner to seal a dizzying 3-3 tiebreak to secure a 4-2 win. La Albiceleste won the World Cup for the first time since 1986 and their inimitable striker Lionel Messi could finally add the final glory to his incredible career.
“It’s crazy that it’s come true this way,” Messi said. “I really wanted it. … I felt it [World Cup] used to”.
The 35-year-old Messi scored twice and played another role, but was overtaken as the world’s best by Frenchman Kylian Mbappe, who scored a hat-trick in front of 88,966 spectators at the 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 shy of his 24th birthday – and four-and-a-half years after helping France win the trophy in Russia – Mbappe scored eight goals to win the tournament’s Golden Boot. Messi finished with seven points.
It was an amazing match. France recovered from a two-goal deficit late in the game, with Messi and Mbappe scoring in the second half of extra time, while Argentina’s Emiliano Martinez made a stunning save to turn the ball over.
“It was a crazy game,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said.
In the shootout — his first in a World Cup final since 2006 — Martinez made two saves and his teammates converted all four attempts. Martinez was also the hero in the quarter-final against the Netherlands, when Argentina were unable to close out a two-goal deficit at the end of regulation time, forcing a penalty shoot-out.
Argentina’s previous World Cup victory came in June 1986 at the Azteca in Mexico City – a year before Messi was born.
“These players played for their people, for the Argentine fans,” said Scaloni, 44, the youngest coach to win since 1978. Playing for your country is a great feeling. The players understood what they had to do. We are very happy and very proud. Today we are champions.”
For Messi, the championship has ended in a frustrating journey after four failed bids. Eight years have passed since Messi’s first appearance in the World Cup final, which ended in defeat to Germany. It has been six years since his short retirement. After missing out on another major tournament for Argentina — the Copa América, the South American Championship — he said: “I tried very hard to win the championship with Argentina. This has not happened. I can’t do it.”
With the World Cup title, Messi will finally join Argentina’s Diego Maradona as world champions and has been criticized for not being considered the greatest player of all time for not winning the sport’s most prestigious trophy.
Messi’s fortunes began to change last year when he won the Copa America for the first time. He entered the tournament saying that it would be his last World Cup. However, “If he wants to continue playing, he will be with us,” Scaloni said.
Argentina entered the World Cup on a 36-game unbeaten run – losing to Saudi Arabia in their opening group game. Since then, Argentina have gone undefeated, taking a 2-0 lead in each match.
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France were trying to win back-to-back titles for the first time since Pelé and Brazil won in 1958 and ’62. Having lost three key starters to injury ahead of the tournament, Les Bleus were relegated to the second tier of rivals and dreaming of another trophy. Here they beat England in the quarter-finals and turned back an upset bid by Morocco in the semi-finals.
Their title hopes were fading on Sunday when Mbappe scored in the 80th and 81st minutes, roughly 90 seconds apart.
“We came back from the dead,” said French coach Didier Deschamps.
Argentina was clean and hungry from the start. France could not resist. Argentina were keen to attack and looked for opportunities to put their stamp on the match by piercing France’s flat opposition.
“We didn’t show the same energy as in previous matches,” Deschamps said, “so in the first hour we weren’t in the match.”
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Mbappe is outdated. He rarely touched the ball, and even more rarely when in possession. As the 20 minutes ticked by, the match remained scoreless, but the reigning champions were getting more and more worried.
Argentina’s victory was achieved by Messi’s penalty in the 23rd minute. This was caused by the French Ousmane Dembele’s sloppiness and defense. Angel Di Maria cuts the ball sharply from near his line, leaving Dembele in the dust. The Argentine gave the winger a shove and then a bit of a cut on Di Maria’s heels.
Messi’s conversion rate is below world-class, but on this occasion he curled a shot from 12 yards out to the right and Hugo Lloris made the save.
Argentina’s second goal was elegant, complex and slick – the counterattack moving from one end to the other in a matter of seconds, touching the ball sparingly.
In the 36th minute, it started with Rodrigo De Paul winning the ball and setting up Alexis McAllister, who set up Messi for a clever cross to Julián Alvarez in midfield. Meanwhile, McAllister continued his run. Alvarez took the ball one touch ahead of McAllister into the green.
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He marked Di Maria running free on the other side and latched on to Alvarez’s pass at the top of the penalty area, finishing one-on-one for Di Maria’s cross.
Deschamps and France were in dire straits. 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) left the game.
France played faster and riskier in the second half, but Argentina were up to the task. As if the championship was approaching, the crowd shouted: “Mess-i! Mess-i!’
France was not ready to concede. Argentina’s Nicolas Otamen was hauled down by substitute Randal Kolo Mouani in the area, and Mbappe’s free-kick went under the glove of Martinez as France got back into the game.
Everything was flowing France’s way. Argentina, who had been in control for most of the night, were now in big trouble.
Adrien Rabiot lifted the ball to Mbappe, who headed the ball down to replace Marcus Thuram at the top of the box. Mbappe left Nauel Molina behind him. Turam waved it back at him. Mbappe spun his body and fired a 15-yard shot past Martinez into the bottom corner.
Interestingly, the match ended in a draw.
“We controlled the game,” Martinez said, “but we had to suffer.”
Argentina did not lose in regulation. Mbappe countered every attack. In stoppage time, Lloris was called upon to make a diving save from Messi’s 25-yard rocket. It was the fourth extra time in five World Cup finals.
In the first 15 minutes, Argentina had three chances, but on each occasion the French defenders intervened. At the beginning of the next session, Messi was not stopped.
Lloris made a superb reflex save from Lautaro Martinez’s corner, but Messi was able to clear the bar just before Jules Cunde was cleared in the 108th minute. He became the oldest player to score twice in the final.
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France weren’t done, and Mbappe stepped up again in the 118th minute to score a penalty after Montiel’s handball.
Kolo Muani would have beaten it in extra time, but Emiliano Martinez pulled off a brilliant single save.
“He really made his mark in this final,” Deschamps said of Mbappe. “Unfortunately, he didn’t leave it the way he wanted it to be.”
Mbappe will no doubt enjoy many more memorable moments on football’s biggest stage. On Sunday, he handed it to Messi.
“I dreamed about it many times,” Messi said. “I wanted it so bad. I can’t believe it.”
The World Cup held in Qatar
Last: Argentina won the World Cup for their first World Cup since 1986, defeating France on penalties in a thrilling final in Lusail, Qatar on Sunday. Argentina, led by world football star Lionel Messi, is expected to appear in the World Cup for the last time. . France are bidding to repeat as champions for the first time since Brazil won back-to-back trophies in 1958 and 1962.
Today’s World View: In the minds of many critics, especially in the West, the Qatar World Cup will always be a tournament shrouded in controversy. But Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani wants people to have a different perspective.
Perspective: “America is no longer the laughing stock of men’s soccer. It’s about something, and it’s more attuned to what’s working for the rest of the world, rather than forcing American sports culture stubbornly — without the benefit of the best talent — into international competition. Read Jerry Brewer on the future of the US men’s national team.