DOHA: Argentina won the World Cup on Sunday after Lionel Messi scored twice against France in one of the all-time great finals, with the South Americans holding their nerve to win in a penalty shootout.
Messi completed his record-breaking career by winning football’s top trophy, converting a first-half penalty and scoring again in extra time. France had rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the final 10 minutes, with Kylian Mbappe scoring twice to level and force extra time in front of an 89,000-strong crowd at Lusail Stadium.
Messi appeared to have won the game in extra time with his second goal of the game, but Mbappe accomplished only the second World Cup final hat-trick to draw the game at 3-3 and require penalties.
Argentina won the shootout 4-2 thanks to Gonzalo Montiel’s final penalty kick, but this was Messi’s moment.
He had suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the 2014 World Cup final against Germany, but in his fifth and last World Cup, the 35-year-old finally replicated Argentina idol Diego Maradona by leading Argentina to World Cup success for the first time since Maradona’s triumph in Mexico City in 1986.
Tens of thousands of blue and white-shirted Argentina fans rose to congratulate Messi as he told them “we’re champions of the world!” on the stadium microphone.
“Obviously, I wanted to complete my career with this,” he later told Argentine television. “I can’t ask for anything more.” Because these are my final years, my career is coming to an end.
What more could there possibly be?”
He did, however, state that he will remain with the Argentina side. “I’d want to play a couple more matches as world champion,” he continued.
FIFA will be pleased with a tense final that concluded one of the most contentious World Cups in history, with Qatari organisers facing constant accusations over the country’s treatment of migrant workers and its homosexuality restrictions.
Messi has finally won a World Cup, which will please neutrals. With his hat-trick — and the Golden Boot for top scorer at the tournament with eight goals — Mbappe has clearly demonstrated that he is ready to take over as the world’s best player.
Argentina dominated the first half of the final, with Messi scoring a penalty in the 23rd minute when Ousmane Dembele tripped Angel Di Maria.
After 36 minutes, Argentina’s second goal was scored by Di Maria, who was part of a great move that included Messi.
They appeared to be on their way to an easy triumph as France, who had been fighting a virus in their camp for the preceding three days, was completely overrun.
But the reigning champions ultimately got back into the game in the second half when Randal Kolo Muani was brought down in the penalty area by Nicolas Otamendi and Mbappe converted from the spot with only 10 minutes remaining.
Mbappe equalised with a stunning volley a minute later.
In extra time, Messi made a spectacular save from French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, and Lautaro Martinez nearly put Argentina ahead, but Dayot Upamecano brilliantly interfered to snuff off the danger.
Argentina took the lead again in the 108th minute when Messi knocked in the rebound after Lloris parried Martinez’s saved effort.