Lionel Messi’s World Cup dream came true as Argentina won their third title on penalties in one of the greatest finals in tournament history.
Argentina won the shootout 4-2 after a spectacular game that culminated in the much-anticipated clash between the 35-year-old Messi and his France counterpart Kylian Mbappe.
France’s own superstar scored a hat-trick, the first in a Fifa World Cup final since 1966, but France still lost at Lusail Stadium.
Argentina cruised into a two-goal lead, and Messi appeared to be securing the one major honor missing from his glittering collection.
This all changed when Mbappe scored two goals in two minutes late in the game, turning this frantic, magnificent match for the ages on its head.
Messi scored Argentina’s first goal from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute after Ousmane Dembele fouled Angel di Maria. He became the first player in World Cup history to score in a single tournament’s group stage, last 16, quarter-final, semi-final, and final.
He then added a deft touch to a magnificent counter-attack that resulted in Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister setting up Di Maria for the second 13 minutes later.
Argentina was untroubled until the final stages when Mbappe gave France a lifeline from the penalty spot with nine minutes remaining – then restored equality moments later with a magnificent volley.
Argentina took the lead again in extra time, but Mbappe completed his treble from the spot two minutes later, capping off a frantic, chaotic added period.
So it went to penalties, with the two greats scoring first. However, Argentina and Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez saved Kingsley Coman’s shot before Aurelian Tchouameni missed, allowing Gonzalo Montiel to win the World Cup.
Messi, finally a World Cup winner, collapsed to his knees in the center circle and was engulfed by ecstatic Argentina teammates.
Messi reaches breaking point
Messi was at the pinnacle of his career as Argentina approached the World Cup final, only to have great rival
Mbappe threatens to knock him off and leave him in despair.
Instead, this World Cup, which will forever be associated with Messi’s name, as well as a final that will rank alongside the greats, provided the iconic Argentine with the conclusion he desired.
Messi was dominant for 80 minutes in Argentina’s final World Cup game against a strangely labored France, scoring his penalty with ease before contributing crucially to a second goal that was a team creation of beauty finished off by Di Maria.
Then there was Mbappe. Then there was France.
Lionel Scaloni’s team had to recover from the double blow inflicted by Mbappe in an atmosphere of disbelief among the massed ranks of Argentina fans who were beginning to celebrate victory.
Inevitably, Messi gave them hope again, demonstrating his willingness to do the dirty work by turning home a scrambled finish in the box in the second period of extra time – only for Mbappe to respond once more.
Argentina won on penalties, and Messi was the focus of attention when Montiel sent the game-winning penalty past France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Messi fell to his knees in tears and raised his arms to the sky amid wild scenes of celebration before disappearing beneath a mountain of teammates.
Messi then took to the microphone to address Argentina’s ecstatic fans, his Holy Grail attained, another piece of evidence accumulating in the argument that would lead many to proclaim him the game’s greatest player.
Mbappe’s hat-trick in the World Cup final was only the second in the tournament’s history, following Sir Geoff Hurst’s in 1966 when England defeated West Germany. Nonetheless, the 23-year-old felt the agony of defeat.
Mbappe was as anonymous as the rest of his team for the first 80 minutes, ill-served in the midst of an inexplicably poor France performance – which they put in despite attempting to become the first team to retain the trophy since Brazil did so 60 years ago, and only the third ever after Italy won in 1934 and 1938.
Before halftime, manager Didier Deschamps made two substitutions, replacing Olivier Giroud and Dembele with Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani.
Despite this, it was Mbappe who resurrected France in those sensational seconds when they went from looking like timid losers to potential winners, then scoring from the spot after Messi had put Argentina back in front.
France could have won after a stunning period of extra time in which both teams exchanged chances, but for a superb last-gasp save by Martinez with his outstretched boot from Muani.
Instead, as he was embraced by his teammates and French President Emmanuel Macron at the end of this enthralling spectacle, Mbappe will find no solace in history.
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