Argentina win epic 2022 World Cup final over France
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Featured Image Credit: BBC
Argentina have won the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar against France after one of the greatest games in the competition’s history.
Messi - widely regarded as the best player to ever kick a football - now has the last trophy that he needed for his cabinet, though his teammates and the opposition made him work like a dog to get it.
Much of the pre-match build-up had centred on the battle between Mbappé and Messi, but after both sets of fans at the Lusail Stadium had lustily belted their respective anthems, the talking stopped and the real action could begin.
World Cup finals aren’t won in 10 minutes but they can be lost, which often means that matches can be cagy and conservative, but this was different.
Argentina showed the more attacking intent with attempts from Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister and a deflected shot concerning French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, looking to win a second successive final as captain.
The first gilt-edged chance came to the Albiceleste, with good work involving Messi leading to Angel Di Maria blasting over the bar when he should have hit the target.
The crowd – massively skewed in favour of Argentina – roared in disappointment then encouragement, sensing that their side were due a breakthrough after starting the quickest.
They didn’t have to wait long.
Di Maria sold Ousmane Dembele a fantastic dummy, jinking into the box before being upended.
The referee pointed to the spot and Messi had his chance from 12 yards to write his name all over the final, and he didn’t miss.
He’s scored hundreds of goals in his career, but would have given up any of them to score today.
Records must now seem dull to the great man, but he also became the first player to score in every single round of a world cup in the competition's modern format.
Not a bad opening half hour, then.
It was set to get even better.
One of the all-time great World Cup goals was to follow, with Argentina slicing through the holders with a slick team move that ended with Mac Allister squaring to Di Maria, who coolly slotted home past a despairing Lloris.
There were tears for Di Maria after his goal and floods in the stands, but a first world trophy since 1986 beckoned for Argentina.
That trophy was built largely on the work of Diego Maradona, who died in 2020 and won’t have been far from many Argentine minds.
El Diego would have been enjoying this, even by his lofty standards.
France reacted immediately, making a bold double substitution before half-time, replacing Olivier Giroud and Dembele with Randal Kolo Muani and Marcus Thuram, possibly an after-effect of the virus that has been rumoured to be in the France camp this week.
After the now-customary seven minutes of added time, half-time arrived and allowed the European team an opportunity to do some soul-searching.
For their South American opponents, cool heads must be kept and professional attitudes and standards maintained.
The second half saw Argentina take a more leisurely approach to the game – barring some eccentric goalkeeping from Aston Villa’s Emi Martinez – with France still struggling to find a foothold.
In fact, Argentina looked more likely to extend their lead, with Julián Álvarez testing Lloris before Messi crashed a shot wide.
Time was ticking past for the despondent French, who looked tired and devoid of any great ideas.
In the end, they were handed a lifeline when a penalty was awarded after Nicolás Otamendi upended Kolo Muani.
That offered Mbappé chance to make his first meaningful contribution to the fixture, and he did – just about.
A game that was petering out now had life once again.
Seconds later, France had a remarkable equaliser.
Mbappé played a headed one-two at the edge of the box, using the return to smash past Martinez and into the corner, though the goalkeeper got a hand.
Argentina seemed to be coasting, but with less than 10 to go in normal time, their advantage had gone.
Mbappé had been anonymous, but now put himself at the centre of the stage and in the lead for the Golden Boot.
Not that anyone would have been thinking about that.
As the match ticked over into eight – yes, eight – minutes of added time, France looked more likely for the first time.
The stunned Argentina side needed to go back to the well once again, or face extending their tournament another half-hour at least.
Messi nearly did just that in the dying seconds, stinging Lloris’ palms with a rasping drive from outside the box that would have caused an earthquake in Buenos Aires had it found the net.
When the referee blew three times on his whistle, few would argue that another half hour would be a bad thing.
Well, few neutrals anyway.
The first half of extra-time was flying by, with challenges starting to fly in from both sides and tired legs starting to tell.
Even Lionel Messi was back defending, sensing that his team could carry passengers without the ball no longer.
France had been slight favourites before the game, and they’d now reassumed that mantle after looking second best for much of the game.
Just before the break, Messi was the architect of some good passing, leading to substitute Lautaro Martínez having a goal-bound shot intercepted thanks to fantastic but desperate block from Dayot Upamecano.
The same two players then clashed again seconds later, with Martínez shot dribbling wide thanks to Upamecano’s defensive pressure.
15 minutes left to avoid penalties, 15 minutes left to decide the fate of the trophy.
Then, the moment finally arrived.
In the opening moments of the extra-time second half, a hopeful ball came forward for Argentina, leading to a fantastic Lloris save, but there – it had to be – on the follow up, was Messi.
His shot only just crossed the line, but that was all it needed.
It wasn’t pretty, but it set the Argentine fans alight once again, dreaming of a fairytale ending.
The match had yet another twist though. A strike from outside the area struck an arm, giving Mbappé the chance to score a first World Cup final hat-trick since England's Geoff Hurst and drag his team level once more.
Of course, the 23-year-old curled home.
Match reporters and trophy engravers be damned, this was far from done.
There was still time for Emi Martinez to make an incredible save from Kolo Muani - France's best player bar Mbappé - and Lautaro to head wide at the other end.
It felt like sacrilege to end a match of this quality with a lottery, but penalties it was regardless.
Up first, Kylian Mbappé, who obviously scored.
Then, his counterpart Messi, who reciprocated in ice-cold fashion.
Penalty specialist Emi Martinez then sent the fans behind the goal wild with a save from Kingsley Coman.
That advantage was rammed home by Paulo Dybala.
Aurélien Tchouaméni then pulled wide after some Martinez antics, leaving Argentina well and truly in the driving seat - not for the first time.
Leandro Parades then scored to leave one kick remaining to decide victory for the Albiceleste.
Kolo Muani scored his kick, but the fateful strike would be left down to Gonzalo Montiel.
As his penalty went in, the France players flopped onto the turf, and the Argentinian players flocked to their superstar Messi, the reason for all of their efforts, and the greatest player to ever do it.
There’s very little that can be said about Lionel Messi that hasn’t been said before, save for three simple words.
World Cup champion.