Argentinians the world over received a wonderful early “ChristMessi” present as their hero lifted the World Cup trophy in Qatar, after their nation defeated the previous holders France in a thrilling tournament finale on penalties, following what probably will rank as the greatest Cup Final in the competitions’ history.
The game ended 2-2 at full-time after two goals in two minutes from Kylian Mbappe had hauled the French level, after seemingly being out of it, after a Lionel Messi penalty and an Angel Di Maria strike had put Argentina into a commanding position. Then in an incredible extra-time period, the game flowed from end to end, as firstly Messi put his side back in front, only for Mbappe to complete his hat-trick to bring the scores level again at 3-3.
Step forward Emi Martinez for the spot-kicks and his save from Kingsley Coman’s effort and distracting antics which saw Aurelian Tchouameni drag his shot wide, allowed Gonzalo Montiel to keep a cool head and slot home the winning kick, to send the tens of thousands of Argentinians in crowd wild, together with the tens of millions watching at home in South America.
Stadium welcomes a host of celebrities
The Lusail Stadium was a cauldron of noise and colour during the closing ceremony which preceded the main event, to bring the 2022 Qatar World Cup tournament to a vibrant conclusion. VIP’s and politicians were out in force and the French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte took their places in the Doha venue to cheer on Les Bleus.
Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández had opted to remain in Buenos Aires for the match, in case his appearance brought his team bad luck, so cheered them on from back home instead.
Only second team to lose in opening group game and still go onto win trophy
Having lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in the very first group game, the Argentines were looking to become the second side in World Cup history to be defeated in their opening game of the competition, but go on to lift the trophy, after Spain did so back in 2010.
With the French also losing a game in the groups – 1-0 to Tunisia; this would be only the second World Cup final where both finalists had lost a match en route, and Argentina were involved in the other, which occurred in 1978 in their own country, when both they and the Netherlands were the last two teams of that tournament, both having lost once each in their first round groups.
Records being set
Messi’s appearance on the team sheet meant that he become the all-time record holder for most games played at the World Cup, with this being his 26th appearance, overtaking the 25 of the German Lothar Matthaus.
Another record was being created by the French team’s captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who became the first keeper to make 20 appearances at World Cups.
Messi vs Mbappe
As the players of Argentina and France emerged, there was real optimism and anticipation of a classic encounter, with arguably the best two players on the planet – Messi and Mbappe – at the heart of it. So often disappointment accompanies over-expectancy, but on this occasion it most certainly did not and the 88,000 inside the stadium, and billions of football fans watching around the globe, were treated to an unforgettable spectacle.
Argentina started the brightest, but hadn’t really threatened when out of nothing a clumsy challenge by Ousmane Dembele on Angel di Maria saw the winger hit the turf. There was minimal contact, but it was a reckless attempt at a tackle and gave the referee no alternative but award a penalty. It was an early opportunity for Messi to make his mark, and he duly obliged calmly putting away his spot-kick, to give the Argentinians an early advantage.
Fabulous second puts Argentinians in control
Just 13 minutes later and the South Americans were in dreamland as the scored a fantastic second. Starting back in their own penalty area, the ball was swiftly played forward, with inevitably Messi having some involvement. His clever flick allowed Julian Alvarez to send Alexis Mac Allister away down the right. He looked up and played the perfect ball across to di Maria, who ran onto the pass and stroked a fine finish past Llores.
French completely out of sorts
At this point the French were a shadow of their former selves; there seemed to be a disconnect in the team and they simply could not click. Mbappe was largely anonymous and it was difficult to see a way back into the game for them. A third at for Argentina would undoubtedly have sealed victory.
Two minutes of pure drama brings France level
Then, out of nothing, Kolo Muani managed to get in behind the Argentine defence and was brought down by Nicolas Otamendi. It was a clear penalty and Mbappe dispatched the kick to give France a lifeline and it did not take them long to capitalise on it. Just ninety seconds later Mbappe smashed in a superb first time volley with exceptional technique to make it all square – he had well and truly joined the party!
Extra-time is an end to end treat
Argentina were now rocking and France were in the ascendency, but they could not find the winner and the game, much to most neutrals delight, went to extra-time. These additional 30 minute periods can often be tight, cagy affairs with neither side wanting to give too much ground. This turned into the complete opposite, as both these power-house nations went toe-to-toe in search of the winner and play switch from end to end constantly.
Who else could it be?
Almost inevitably it would be the two main attractions who would take centre stage, with first of all Messi seizing onto a loose ball after Llores had pushed a Lautaro Martinez’s shot into his path and the stadium erupted. It was his seventh goal in the tournament, the most by any Argentine player in the World Cup, overtaking Mario Kempes’ six in the 1978 competition.
Not to be outdone, Mbappe once again pulled his side level and again it was from the spot, after Otamendi blocked his drive inside the box with his arm. Referee Szymon Marciniak had no hesitation in pointing to the spot for a third time and the Polish official deserves great credit for his overall performance, which was outstanding; especially when compared to some of the officiating that has been witnessed at times over the past month.
First World Cup Final hat-trick for 56 years
Mbappe confidently put the penalty kick into the same side as his first to complete his treble, becoming the first player to do so in a World Cup Final since Geoff Hurst scored three in the 1966 match, when England beat West Germany 4-2, also after extra-time.
In the final minute both teams has great chances to win the game when first of all Randal Kolo Muani for France saw his shot blocked by Emi Martinez when clean through; then less than a minute later and down the other end of the pitch, Lautaro Martinez should have won it for Argentina, but his free header went well wide, when he should at least have hit the target.
Penalties end 4-2 to Argentina
That was it and sadly a fantastic game was going to have to be decided by penalty kicks, which is obviously great drama, but always such an awful way for one team to lose. Mbappe and Messi both easily converted their kicks, before Kingsley Coman saw his poor kick saved by Martinez, allowing Paulo Dybala, who had been brought on specifically to take a kick, put his away to give Argentina the lead.
Martinez got into Aurelien Tchouameni’s head with some of his usual, and it has to be said pretty unsporting tactics, which had the effect of seeing the Frenchman drag his kick wide of the post. When Leandro Paredes then scored with his penalty, the Argentines were almost there. Muani smashed his kick down middle to reduce the arrears, but when Gonzalo Montiel sent Llores the wrong way, he had secured Argentina’s first World Cup win since 1986.
Leading players take top awards
That kicked off frenzied celebrations on the pitch and in the stands with Messi getting mobbed by his teammates, thrilled for their captain to have finally got the medal his glittering career so richly deserved. He was also awarded the Golden Ball for “player of the tournament”.
Mbappe finished top scorer with eight goals to walk away with the Golden Boot, whilst Martinez took the Golden Glove as the “best keeper in the tournament”. The “young player of the tournament” went to Argentina’s 21-year-old midfielder Enzo Fernandez.
Still celebrating in stadium hours after game ended
Several hours after the completion of the game, thousands of Argentinian fans, many wearing the Number 10 Messi shirt, remained in the stadium as the players and their families posed for pictures on the pitch and went for a jubilant lap of honour, followed by another, as they showed off the golden trophy to their adoring supporters.
Celebration set to go on all night
There are going to be some mighty sore heads amongst players and fans alike in Qatar tonight, as well as back in their Argentinian homeland as they toast the perfect end to the an incredible international career of their hero and probably the greatest player of all time.
The 2022 World Cup is destined to for ever be known as Messi’s tournament… and quite rightly so.