The most exciting World Cup final in history saw Lionel Messi and his Argentine troops crowned as the champions. After a hectic, emotional game – which ended in a 3-3 draw – France’s team, powered forward by the thunder of Kylian Mbappé, finally succumbed to a roulette game of penalty kicks.
Mbappé was sublime in the match, scoring all of France’s three goals. Messi, meanwhile, scored two. After a tragic end in Brazil 2014, fate granted him the chance to return to glory in Qatar eight years later. At the age of 35, he managed to score in extra time, while all the younger players were on the brink of collapse. There was no respite, but he still delivered.
In 1986 – the last time Argentina won the World Cup, in Mexico – the legendary Diego Maradona scored an infamous goal against England in the quarter finals. He credited it to “the hand of God.” Well, if Maradona had the hand of God, Messi had the foot.
Until Mbappé took over the game, it seemed as if the French team had given up in the first half. From the outset, they played poorly, with Argentina taking an early 2-0 lead. Things changed quickly, though, when Mbappé scored three goals in the second half. As the 23-year-old French prodigy seemed set on victory in Qatar, it was up to the Argentine veteran to save his team… with a little help from his goalie, of course.
Despite the slow start for France, the utter force of Jules Koundé (24) and Ousmane Dembélé (25) was evident from early on. By the second half, it was difficult for the Argentines to counter the speed of the two young Frenchmen, both of whom play alongside Messi in FC Barcelona.
There was a moment of much controversy when Angel Di María – who, aside from Messi, was the only member of his team to score – fell down while being pursued by Dembélé. He won his side a penalty, provoking outrage from many viewers. Messi delivered, giving Argentina an early 1-0 lead. Di María soon added a second goal.
At halftime Didier Deschamps – who has coached the French National Team since 2012 – seemed to say “enough is enough.” He spoke with Dembélé, Marcus Thuram and Kolo Muani, looking to apply some sort of remedy to get back in the game. By that point, Deschamps had already removed veteran Olivier Giroud – at minute 70, he would also switch out Antoine Griezmann. These were tough calls, but the players simply weren’t delivering.
France seemed reduced to the role of voyeur after such a demoralizing start. Until, of course, Mbappé – who was part of the French team that defeated Croatia at the 2018 World Cup in Russia – finally stepped up, after a clumsy first half. In the end, however, his hat-trick would be in vain.
Argentina began the second half at a steady pace… but this calm attitude soon turned to anguish when Mbappé flipped the game upside down. Thuram and Mbappé were suddenly snatching the ball away from Messi midfield. Meanwhile, Nicolás Otamendi fouled Kolo Muani, whose powerful shots were twice-blocked by goalie Emiliano Martínez. These unbelievable saves stopped his team from being defeated 4-3. The 40,000 Argentina fans in the crowd had gone from boisterous confidence to silence by the end of extra time.
Football is made up of little moments that can change everything. France managed to have two – enough to put their opponent in dire straits. The French players – rallied by Mbappé Thuram and Muani – ended up overshadowing the players in sky blue and white. Messi appeared crestfallen at times, as if he could see the World Cup slipping away from him once again.
In the end, it all came down to penalties. Messi and Mbappé each scored. But then, Kingsley Coman and Aurélien Tchouaméni couldn’t deliver for France, with Martínez coming through again with incredible saves. When Gonzalo Montiel scored, it was all over for the defending champions. Argentina converted all four kicks to win the country’s third World Cup championship. One can imagine that Messi was over the moon.