Lionel Messi: FIFA World Cup champion. Perhaps the greatest soccer player of his generation, the Argentina star capped his storybook career Sunday with an extra time goal to help his home country secure its first World Cup tournament win in 36 years as Argentina defeated France in a gripping, rollercoaster final match in Qatar.
The yerba mate-infused Argentina controlled the pace from the onset, keeping possession and applying pressure that — while not resulting in a goal or any close calls — kept France, the defending World Cup champions, on the defensive for the majority of the first half.
The Argentine pressure paid off in the 23rd minute when, after getting fouled in the penalty area, Messi was awarded a penalty kick, which he planted in the right corner to give Argentina a 1-0 lead. The goal was Messi’s sixth of the World Cup, making him – at least temporarily – the “Golden Boot” leader for the tournament. The finals also marked the 35-year-old Messi’s 26th World Cup match, the most all time.
Argentina’s first half dominance continued in the 35th minute as beautiful team passing spread the French defense and allowed Alexis Mac Allister to slide a pass to a streaking Ángel Di María for an easy goal and a 2-0 Argentina lead. That score held until halftime.
Despite the 2-0 lead, the Argentina side didn’t relent in the second half, nearly scoring five minutes in as France struggled to capitalize on what few opportunities their opponents provided. For nearly 80 minutes, the Argentinean defense rendered French star Kylian Mbappe a non-factor, reducing his touches and reining in the forward who entered the game with five World Cup goals.
However, that and the game changed quickly in the 80th minute when Argentina committed a foul in the penalty area, resulting in a penalty kick, and goal, for Mbappe. Just a minute later, Mbappe scored again to tie the game 2-2, his seventh goal of the tournament, snatching the Golden Boot away from Messi.
After a tense eight-minute injury time, which included a scorching last-minute strike by Messi that was stopped by French goalie Hugh Lloris, the match went to two 15-minute periods of extra time. The score remained the same through the first 15 minutes, but in the second extra time session, at the 108th minute of the match, Messi happened again:
The resilient French side didn’t give up, as Mbappe was awarded another penalty kick after an Argentinean hand ball in the box. Mbappe tied the game with his third goal of the game and eighth of the tournament:
A frantic final minute, including a highlight save by Argentina goalie Emiliano Martinez, ultimately ended with a 3-3 tie and the tournament-deciding penalty kicks. Mbappe set the tone by opening the first round with a goal, but that was casually met by a slow roller by Messi to knot it up. Martinez made a save on the second penalty kick to swing the pendulum back toward Argentina, and Paulo Dybala iced his kick to give Argentina the advantage after two rounds.
The French missed on their third penalty kick, and Argentina’s Leandro Paredes scored to put them on the brink of victory. France’s Randal Kolo Muani scored to keep them alive, but with the game on the foot of Argentina’s Gonzalo Montiel, he scored on his penalty kick to seal the World Cup title for Argentina and Messi.
After losing their opening World Cup match against Saudi Arabia, Argentina ran off consecutive victories against Mexico, Poland, Australia, the Netherlands (on penalties), Croatia in the semifinals and finally France.
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The final featured a battle between two soccer superpowers who, despite two championships apiece, have never met in a World Cup Final: France, the defending champions having won in 2018, also won the World Cup in 1998; while Argentina previously won in 1978 and 1986, the same year of Diego Maradona’s infamous “Hand of God” goal.
With Argentina’s third World Cup victory, they are now in sole possession of fourth all-time in tournament wins, behind Brazil’s five trophies and Italy and Germany’s four apiece.