The statistics were unmistakable. Losing the first game in group play makes advancing to the knockout round nearly impossible. Argentina would not only advance, but it would also win the group and continue to win indefinitely. Lionel Messi can now call himself a World Cup champion after a 3-3 (4-2 penalty kick shootout) victory over defending champion France in what was likely his final World Cup match. Argentina has won its third World Cup, and the early whispers have been replaced by tears and cheers.
Lionel Messi lifts his Last World Cup Trophy for Argentina
Argentina began the match against France aggressively and relentlessly. The French, who had looked dominant throughout the tournament, struggled to find the rhythm, cohesion, and energy that they had displayed in Qatar. Midway through the first half, Argentina’s attack paid off. Argentina’s ngel Di Mara sped past France’s Ousmane Dembélé, who tripped him in the box, to earn a penalty kick. There was no question about who would take it. Lionel Messi walked up to the penalty spot, 12 yards from the French keeper, in his 26th World Cup game (the most ever in the men’s tournament). He powered it low and to the right with a deep breath and a calm strike. 1-0.
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With the goal, Lionel Messi became the first player in World Cup history to score in every game of the knockout round (round of 16, quarterfinal, semifinal, and final). The South Americans were not finished yet. Argentina managed to split the French defense across midfield in the 36th minute. With just two crisp passes, Di Mara created the chances once more, streaking into the box and shooting above diving French keeper Hugo Lloris. 2-0. Di Mara walked back to the Argentina side of the field, wiping away tears.
France appeared dissatisfied. Didier Deschamps did the unthinkable by replacing two of his starters in the first half: Dembélé (whose foul resulted in the first goal) and all-time French scoring leader Olivier Giroud. The nearly 89,000 people inside Lusail Stadium overwhelmingly supported Argentina, with the majority wearing the team’s signature white and sky blue uniform. It was electrifying. They applauded every touch, pass, and shot.
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Mbappé, however, cut Argentina’s lead in half with a penalty shot in the 80th minute to make it 2-1. France had been deafeningly quiet throughout the match. Quiet. Unsure. The game’s energy changed when France showed some life. Then, amazingly, Mbappé did it again 93 seconds later. He equalized with a blistering right-footed shot past Argentine keeper Emiliano Martnez. 2-2. This is the French team that everyone anticipated seeing in the championship. Finally, it was Lionel Messi vs. Mbappé. The 35-year-old, one of the greatest players in history, will face the 23-year-old, who is adding to his impressive soccer pedigree.
The teams played nine minutes more in regulation and eight minutes more in stoppage time. Both teams failed to score, necessitating 30 minutes of extra time. Argentina had previously visited. It was defeated in the 2014 World Cup final by Germany, who scored in extra time to win 1-0. Argentina would score again in extra time this time. Was there ever any doubt about who would score? Of course, Lionel Messi. Messi scores after the ball ricochets in front of the French goal. It is now the 109th minute. His evening’s second goal. 3-2.
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Of course, that score would be invalid. France attempted another penalty kick after a handling call inside the Argentine box. It would, of course, be Mbappé. He scored in the 118th minute, of course. The young French star has a hat trick. 3-3. In the final minutes, both teams fought. But it would take a penalty shootout to end what will likely be remembered as the best World Cup final in history. Argentina took an early lead. Following Mbappé and Messi’s penalty kicks, Argentina’s keeper stopped France’s Kingsley Coman’s attempt.
Then Aurélien Tchouaméni failed to score. Argentina’s Gonzalo Montiel scored the game-winning penalty kick. Tears, hugs, and smiles for Lionel Messiand Argentina as a whole. Argentina had not won a World Cup since 1986, when it was led by Diego Maradona, the man whose shadow has loomed large over Lionel Messi. Argentina will host the World Cup in 2022. Argentina’s third title, and Lionel Messi’s first. It is the first time he can claim to be a World Cup champion. It was his final chance. His resume is now complete.
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