(aet) Argentina win 4-2 on penalties
In Argentina the scales of football justice are balanced. All the number 10s can rest in peace as Lionel Messi paints one last masterpiece.
Not even a Kylian Mbappé hat-trick could deny La Albiceleste a third World Cup, their first since Diego Maradona lifted the gold trophy at Mexico 1986.
Fifa could survive another thousand years and the gift of this day in Lusail will never be repeated.
The Iconic stadium was a mad house by the time penalties rolled around. After Mbappé and Messi did their duty, Kingsley Coman was matched by Argentinian goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez before Aurélien Tchouaméni shot low and wide.
It fell to Gonzalo Montiel to atone for an earlier hand ball. The Sevilla defender’s strike was pure.
From the top: Three-all, pandemonium.
This Qatar affair has worked in mysterious ways. Messi made it 3-2 after 108 minutes of a pulsating final with a poacher’s finish, but Mbappé refused to be bundled off the stage, punishing Montiel’s hand ball to score the first hat-trick in a final since Geoff Hurst in 1966.
The drama was ridiculous, impossible to fully comprehend as Mbappé levelled matters for a second time.
Initially, Messi tore up all logic and reason, finding enough to seemingly break the reigning world champions, twice. After putting Argentina 2-0 ahead from a majestic pass, with back to goal deep inside his own half, Mbappé snapped the spell – the 23-year-old saving France when all hope had left the building.
Turns out this Argentina team like nothing more than to toss a two-nil lead into thethe Gulf.
Mbappé must have thought, ‘if Dutch forward Wout Weghorst can open this porous defence then so can I’. the Netherlands were cooked in the quarter-final, also trailing 2-0, only for a crazily late brace by Weghorst to drag the tie to penalties.
Penalties, play it again and again.
It was two-nil at half-time to Argentina, the champions all but dethroned. Besides Mbappé and the French reinforcements, the world of football was sated; the Messi dream all but a reality as everyone had enough thrills to carry us to North America in 2026.
But shaky Argentina rode their luck all tournament long. They began this World Cup like a train, scoring three disallowed goals in the opening 45 minutes of what became a stunning 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia. For 45 minutes against Mexico, they stared into the abyss. Elimination beckoned until Messi’s daisy cutter set them free.
Methodically, beautifully, Lionel Scaloni and an Argentinian management, compiling of Messi team-mates from his first World Cup in 2006, encouraged La Pulga to shape the Qatar canvas in his own image.
Across town Mbappé was scoring unforgettable goals too, cutting Poland to pieces.
A 35-year-old dominated the World Cup, similar to how a 36-year-old Zinedine Zidane almost managed in 2006. It all became too much for Zizou and he headbutted Marco Materazzi in the final.
Messi does not headbutt people. Ageing Messi curves opponents to his will. He diced France’s all-Champions League defence into little pieces in the first half. Jules Koundé has been astoundingly good for Didier Deschamps’s side but on this Lusail night the Barcelona right back was made look like a journeyman.
Messi kept arcing balls over to Ángel Di María, who kept promising to skin Ousmane Dembélé. On 21 minutes he did just that, skirting down the end line until crumbling under a foot trip.
Messi closed his eyes, whispering to the heavens before a stutter step prompted Hugo Lloris to move early to his right. Messi tapped the ball into the other corner.
Unbelievably, Mbappé went AWOL in the first half. Jorge Valdano, who scored the second goal in the 1986 final, writing about Messi versus Mbappé in his El País column, said that “they represent the eternal and mythological struggle between power and wisdom”.
Wisdom’s wit outfoxed the power of this young champion, until the final quarter when Mbappé supercharged a French revival.
But for 80 minutes this was the Messi final. The second Argentinian goal gave proof; Cristian Romero broke up the play, finding Alexis Mac Allister who nudged the ball to his captain and accelerated up the middle like he was being pursued by wolves. Messi feinted one way before picking out Julián Álvarez wide right.
It caught France cold. Every one of the 88,966 attendance could see Di María coming off the left flank, all alone. Álvarez found Mac Allister who slid a pass that allowed Di María to caress the ball beyond Lloris.
Argentina scored 14 goals to win their second World Cup in 1986. Argentina scored 15 goals to win their third World Cup in 2022. And they still needed penalties to deny Mbappé.
Four minutes before the break it felt like Deschamps was tossing the towel into the ring as he hauled off France’s record goalscorer Olivier Giroud and Dembélé. Turns out the wisdom of Deschamps, the winner of World Cups as both captain and manager, could not be discounted. Three of his subs, Marcus Thuram, Randal Kolo Muani and Coman helped to turn the tide for France.
Turns out, Mbappé needed two peeks to ignite the revival. After Kolo Muani bustled past Nicolás Otamendi, who felt almost obliged to take him to ground, Mbappé leathered a penalty underneath Martínez.
The equaliser came in the 81st minute after Coman dispossessed a jaded Messi before Mbappé did a one-two with Thuram and rifled to the net.
Suddenly, Messi was missing in action, as Mbappé thundered off the left to have a shot deflected over. France came for a winner, Adrien Rabiot drawing a great save from Martínez.
This was a prize fight. Messi, in the dregs of injury-time, stung the arm of Lloris with a swerving shot from outside the box.
Lautaro Martínez made his usual cameo off the bench and had two chances to win it all but Dayot Upamecano blocked and distracted to send the game, inevitably by this stage, to penalties.
Messi and Mbappé would score one more each before Montiel’s penalty won Argentina a crazy World Cup final. Mbappé gets the golden boot, Messi gets to rest in peace.