It was an extraordinary night of drama, high emotion and fluctuating fortunes, delivering one of the all-time great finals to cap a wonderful tournament as its two-star players, Argentina’s Lionel Messi and France’s Kylian Mbappe delivered command performances on the biggest stage of all on Sunday night in Qatar.
Argentina won their third World Cup in an extraordinary final as they beat France 4-2 on penalties after Lionel Messi scored twice in a 3-3 draw that featured a hat-trick for Kylian Mbappe as the holders recovered from 2-0 down.
Argentina had looked to be cruising to a one-sided victory after Messi’s penalty and a brilliant goal by Angel Di Maria in the first half put them in total control but Mbappe converted an 80th-minute penalty and volleyed in an equaliser a minute later to take the game to extra time.
Messi put Argentina ahead again but Mbappe levelled with another penalty, becoming the second man to score a World Cup final hat-trick after England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966.
That took the game to a shootout where Argentina keeper Emiliano Martinez saved Kingsley Coman’s effort and Aurelien Tchouameni fired wide to give Gonzalo Montiel to chance to win it, which he gleefully took.
Argentina have now won six of their seven World Cup shootouts, including the quarter-final against the Netherlands a week ago when they also blew a 2-0 lead, while France have lost three of five, but with two of those defeats coming in finals.
It meant that after his record 26th World Cup match, at the fifth and final time of asking, the 35-year-old Messi claimed the trophy he demanded, lifting him up alongside Diego Maradona, the country’s first football God who carried them to their emotional second triumph in 1986 following their first in 1978.
It seems all the more incredible coming a month after his team began the tournament by suffering statistically the biggest upset in World Cup history when they were beaten by Saudi Arabia.
“I cannot believe that we have suffered so much in a perfect game. Unbelievable, but this team responds to everything,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said.
“I am proud of the work they did. With the blows we received today, this makes you emotional. I want to tell people to enjoy, it’s a historic moment for our country.”
There seemed little hint of the drama to come as Argentina dominated the first hour, outrunning and outfighting a flat French team seeking to be the first to retain the title since Brazil 60 years ago.
They went ahead when the recalled Di Maria beat Ousmane Dembele and was tripped for a penalty that Messi slotted in after 23 minutes.
There then came one of the best goals to grace a final after 36 minutes when instinctive passing by Nahuel Molina, Messi, Julian Alvarez and Alexis Mac Allister set up Di Maris to slide in the second.
France barely fired a shot in anger until the 80th minute when Nicolas Otamendi tripped Randal Kolo Muani and Mbappe, previously anonymous, expertly converted the resulting penalty.
A minute later he swept in a brilliant equalising volley after combining cleverly with Marcus Thuram, stunning the massed Argentine fans watching their team concede two quick-fire goals for the third time in the tournament.
Argentina regained the lead after a counter-attack when the tireless Lautaro Martinez smashed a shot at Hugo Lloris and Messi pounced on the rebound with a rare right-footed finish, technology confirming the ball had crossed the line.
The drama was not over, however, as Mbappe hammered a shot against the arm of Montiel to win another penalty in the 117th minute, which he calmly dispatched for an amazing hat-trick and a tournament-topping eighth goal.
He and Messi both converted the opening spot-kicks of the shootout but then had to stand back and let their team mates decide their destiny.Follow us on social media