FINAL FRONTIER CONQUERED. On his fifth attempt, Lionel Messi has finally won the one trophy that has eluded him all his career, the FIFA World Cup, and cemented his legacy as the Greatest Of All Time, putting an end to all debates once and for all.
Facing reigning champions in the final at the Lusail Stadium, Messi and Argentina thoroughly dominated the contest from the start, not giving Kylian Mbappe & co. a sniff.
Messi got Argentina up and running just 22 minutes in, dispatching a nerveless penalty after Ousmane Dembele had brought down the enterprising Angel Di Maria inside the box. Thirteen minutes later, Di Maria doubled La Albiceleste’s lead, with a neat finish to round off a slick team move.
Didier Deschamps rang in the changes before half-time to try and turn things around, but little worked for him and France as they continued to be the second-best team in the match.
Argentina came close to adding a third in the second half, with Julian Alvarez forcing Hugo Lloris into action and Messi going close.
Mbappe had grown a frustrated figure with each passing minute as he failed to make any sort of impact on the proceedings apart from a wild shot that flew over the bar.
At that point, it looked like it would be Messi’s night. But Mbappe ripped the script apart and the ‘Bringer of Chaos’, as Peter Drury put it on air, decided to make his presence felt on the encounter.
A rash moment from Nicolas Otamendi in the 78th minute gifted France a way back, as he fouled Randal Kolo Muani to gift Les Bleus a penalty. Stepping up to take the spot-kick, Mbappe put the ball into the back of the net past Emiliano Martinez, rekindling hope among the fans.
Just seconds later, the Golden Boy of PSG, the superstar of France, buried a sensational volleyed effort to make it 2-2, breathing life into the team that had looked down and out not very long ago, to set up for a grandstand final ten minutes.
And just like that, it was Argentina who were looking at sea and not knowing where to go each time France charged at them. Messi almost produced a moment of magic in stoppage time with a rasping effort, but Hugo Lloris was up to the task, making a huge save to force the tie into extra time.
Lautaro Martinez had two gilt-edged chances to put Argentina ahead in the first half of extra time but failed, threatening to become the reincarnation of Gonzalo Higuain circa 2014.
But Messi was not to be denied this time. Four minutes into the second half of extra time, the 35-year-old was at hand to bury home a rebound after Martinez’s initial effort was saved by Lloris to make it 3-2. The stadium erupted, the Argentine bench was in tears, and the France dugout was stunned as Messi grabbed the initiative back.
However, there was still life in France. Mbappe had another chapter to write in this tale filled with twists and turns. Another penalty for the champions, another moment of huge pressure for the 23-year-old, but he lives for it, he thrives under it. 3-3.
Mbappe, again, made no mistake from the spot. Neither did Messi. Emiliano Martinez then denied Kingsley Coman before Paulo Dybala, who has hardly been seen at the tournament, made his most vital contribution, converting his penalty.
With Aurelien Tchouameni also missing and Leandro Paredes scoring, Argentina were on the cusp. And Gonzalo Montiel finished it off with a well-taken penalty to confirm La Albiceleste as the winners, with Messi conquering his final peak.
Meanwhile, it was a heartbreak for two of Barcelona’s young guns in the form of Ousmane Dembele and Jules Kounde, who endured rough evenings, with the former even getting hauled off just forty minutes into the match. They will learn from the experience, they will bounce back strongly.
Rodrigo De Paul fought like an angry wolf, Julian Alvarez ran the channels hard, made life difficult for France, Enzo Fernandez enjoyed another excellent match as he continued to enhance his reputation with each passing game and Emiliano Martinez delivered again in the shootouts.
But tonight was all about that man, Messi, putting in a MOTM display in the final, to reaffirm his status as truly the greatest ever to have played the beautiful game, with a shiny new World Cup winners’ medal now added to his collection.