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Lionel Messi is a World Cup Champion.
Lionel Messi is a World Cup Champion. Photo: Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Image

Lionel Messi is a World Cup Champion, Argentina win on penalties after 120 minutes of a heartstopping final

Mbappe’s hat-trick was not enough as France’s two missed penalties in the shootout gave Messi his long-awaited title.

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Where should we start? Let’s begin by saying firstly and foremost, Argentina and Lionel Messi are World Cup champions for the first time in over 30 years. Messi has accomplished his ultimate life goal in winning this much coveted title. 

Secondly, what a final this was. It was arguably one of the best finals in recent history as it was back and forth, full of emotion, had many heart stopping moments, and so many storylines and narratives that came and went as the game progressed. 

Thirdly, Kylian Mbappe almost single handedly spoiled his PSG teammate’s — Messi — World Cup winning party as he became only the second player in history to score a hat trick in a World Cup final. The last time that happened? Nearly half a century ago Geoff Hurst did it for England in 1966, when they defeated West Germany. 

With all that being said, there is so much more to unpack. 

The 2014 World Cup Final between Argentina and Germany ended in heartbreaking fashion for the South Americans, conceding an extra time goal from Mario Götze that completely pulverized not just Argentina’s dreams of taking home the title, but also that of their greatest ever player who at that point even eight years ago, was already considered the greatest of all time. 

Many in the world, and specifically from his home country, questioned his drive, his ability, and hunger to take home the title just like the former great he is always compared to in Diego Maradona, who brought it home in 1986 in Mexico. 

But heading into this 2022 tournament, it all seemed to be different. 

With a new coach in Lionel Scaloni and a group of young and tough players willing to battle and do the dirty work for their star man, this collective of role players — unlike previous Argentina sides that was filled to the brim with stars — formed a cohesive unit of a team that, from the looks of it early on, the Argentinian Football Association seemed to have finally struck the perfect balance for a squad, led by 35-year old Messi.

While it was not ideal to have waited until his very last chance to accomplish this goal, it is comparable to that of a Hollywood script in what was likely his last dance with the Argentina team at a World Cup tournament, Messi and Argentina are World Champions.

From the kick-off, the Argentines were the dominating side, tactically and physically. Most importantly, Mbappe was completely a non-factor in the first half of the game. 

The French started the game with two midfielders — Adrien Rabiot and Aurélien Tchouaméni — compared to Argentina’s four, which completely determined the rest of the game. Argentina’s beefed up midfield completely outran and outpassed the French. 

France, uncharacteristically, were unable to get anything offensively as Argentina’s intense pressing forced them into silly giveaways, and even after an hour of play, had not registered a shot on target. The South Americans showed off their grit, and toughness that for whatever reason, caught the French off guard. Argentina’s frontline was creative with their one-touch passing, and had the French defense swirling, looking for any lifeline. 

The French would pay for their lackluster start within the first 23 minutes of the game as Ousmane Dembélé was caught in a one v. one situation vs. Angel Di Maria and in an act of frustration, he was beaten on the left and Di Maria made his way inside the box as Dembélé played catchup and clipped him. While soft, it was definitely a penalty. 

Messi was calm and made French captain Hugo Lloris dive to his right and coolly kicked it into the other side. He became the first player to score in every knockout round of a World Cup. It is incredible to think about considering he had never scored a knockout-round goal until just two weeks ago. 

Di María grabbed the second from a terrific team play in which the ball was won in the back and then two quick passes occurred and Alexis Mac Allister was on the run. He saw Di María running with him and delivered it sweetly to the veteran who did not miss his chance. Things were so bad for France Manager Didier Deschamps was forced to make first half substitutions. 

Giroud and Dembélé unhappily came off for Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani. 

For most of the second-half, France had not improved and Argentina was in cruise control as they were heading towards glory, until Mbappe had something else in mind. The 23-year old gave the French their first goal off of a penalty in the 80th minute to make it 2-1. It looked like Argentina was ready to bottle another 2-0 lead, as was the case vs. the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, and Mbappe would deliver a wonder goal to tie it up just a minute and a half after his penalty

An Argentina fall was predicted at this point as momentum had completely swung in favor of France as they looked energized, and ready for battle. The two sides would almost score on each other to give either side the win, but some defensive tackles and brilliant goalkeeper saves for both teams would see this game head into extra time. 

Extra-time was not something that Argentina had in their game plan for tonight, especially after leading 2-0, but this was something that they were used to as they have had to fight tooth and nail to win every game leading up to tonight's final. 

King Leo would once again put the nation — and arguably the entire world — on his back as he would score the winner at that point in the 108th minute with a ball that was kicked out by the French defense, but the ball had crossed the goal line before being cleared, giving Messi his second and the winner. 

The Argentine defense was starting to fold at this point with the attacking prowess of the French was starting to weigh on them. They were taller, faster, and stronger than the South Americans with less than 10 minutes to go until the end of extra time. And the defense would fold, as they gave up another penalty, the second of the game. 

It was time for Mbappe to step up again for his nation as the youngster had France and  French President Emmanuel Macron watching. He would score his second penalty of the night to tie the game up and to give himself the hat trick, only the second player in history to do so in a World Cup final. 

Both sides and fans were very nervous and anxious heading into the penalty shootout as Argentina had been there before in this tournament and performed well. For France, there have always been question marks around them in regards to penalty shootouts and their inexperience in this forum definitely showed tonight. 

Kingsley Coman and Aurélien Tchouaméni would both miss their penalties and Argentina would prevail as their keeper Emi Martinez came up huge with some big saves. And now, Argentina are World Champions. 

In what was arguably — at least to social media — one of the worst World Cup Finals in recent memory, leading up to the final 10 minutes of regular time — in terms of competitiveness between both sides — quickly turned into one of the all time classic battles between two greats in Mbappe and Messi and two historic nations in world soccer. 

For Argentina, this is their first title since 1986, but the story is that Messi, one of the greatest players this game has seen, in probably his last opportunity, achieved his boyhood dream of winning a World Cup. 

If this is the last time we see Messi in an Argentina shirt, or even at this tournament, it will have been an honor to witness a legend like himself win it for his nation.

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