Lionel Messi finally achieved his World Cup dream as Argentina won their third crown on penalties following one of the greatest finals in the tournament’s history at Lusail Stadium.
Argentina won the shootout 4-2 after a spectacular game which developed into the much-anticipated confrontation between the 35-year-old maestro Messi and his France opposite number Kylian Mbappe, who scored a hat-trick – the first in a FIFA World Cup final since 1966 – but still ended up on the losing side.
Messi looked to be securing the one major honour missing from his glittering collection in comfort as Argentina cruised into a two-goal lead, only for an explosive intervention from Mbappe to turn a spectacular encounter on its head with two goals inside two mintutes late on.
Messi had given Argentina the lead from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute following Ousmane Dembele’s foul on Angel di Maria. It made him the first player in World Cup history to score in the group stage, last 16, quarter-final, semi-final and final of a single tournament.
He then contributed a delicate touch within a magnificent counter-attack that ended with Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister setting up Di Maria for the second 13 minutes later.
VIVE LE FOOT ! pic.twitter.com/nCBjfuDeVM
— Equipe de France (@equipedefrance) December 18, 2022
Argentina were untroubled until the closing stages, only for Mbappe to give France a lifeline from the penalty spot with nine minutes left – then restore equality with a magnificent volley moments later.
Messi bundled Argentina back in front in extra time, but Mbappe completed his treble from the spot two minutes from the end of a frantic, chaotic added spell.
And so it went to penalties, with the two greats opening the scoring. But Argentina and Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez saved from Kingsley Coman, before Aurelian Tchouameni missed, leaving Gonzalo Montiel to win the World Cup.
Messi, a World Cup winner at last, collapsed to his knees in the centre circle and was engulfed by jubilant Argentina team-mates.
Mbappe cemented his status as one of the game’s modern greats with only the second hat-trick in a World Cup final, following Sir Geoff Hurst’s when England beat West Germany in 1966. But the 23-year-old still suffered the pain of defeat.
Mbappe was as anonymous as most of his team for the first 80 minutes, ill-served amid an unfathomably poor France display – which they put in despite seeking to become the first side to retain the trophy since Brazil did so 60 years ago, and only the third ever after Italy won in 1934 and 1938.
Manager Didier Deschamps even made two substitutions before half-time, replacing Olivier Giroud and Dembele with Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani.
And yet it was Mbappe who revived France in those sensational seconds when they went from looking like timid losers to potential winners, then getting his third from the spot after Messi had put Argentina back in front.
In a stunning period of extra time during which both sides exchanged chances, France could have won but for a superb last-gasp save by Martinez with his outstretched boot from Muani.
Instead, Mbappe will find history no consolation as he was embraced by his team-mates and French President Emmanuel Macron at the end of this enthralling spectacle. (BBC)