For years, Lionel Messi’s craved for this kiss. With the Golden Ball for the best player in his hand, Messi kissed the Cup and the Lusail Stadium roared. Messi smiled. He now has what he had always cherished, what his legions of fans prayed for him to have. The World Cup.
The moment Gonzalo Montiel sent Hugo Lloris the wrong way to make it 4-2 on penalties, Messi was on his knees. It was his moment of glory. It was his World Cup, his tournament.
23rd MINUTE: Argentina break into celebration after Lionel Messi converts a penalty, which was won by Angel Di Maria after he was fouled by Ousmane Dembele inside the box. Getty Images
In his last match for Argentina, Messi, 35, ended his country’s 36-year wait for the Cup. Diego Mardona had led his country to glory in 1986 and walked into our collective conscience; Messi, who for ages has been seen as the man who could do a Maradona, has finally got the monkey off his back.
36th: On a quick counter, Messi flicks to find Mac Allister who surges up before squaring it to Di Maria, whose first-time shot beats an advancing Hugo Lloris. A picturesque move. Getty Images
Copa America in 2021, the World Cup a year later. Argentina fans could not have asked for more. Messi has delivered.
Argentina survived 120 minutes of roller-coaster football and then a nerve-wracking, heart-stopping penalty shootout. At one point, they looked like they would fritter away all the good work done in the past month as Kylian Mbappe with his brilliance and skill made a huge statement. A hat-trick in the final, for the first time since Geoff Hurst’s feat in the 1966 England triumph, yet Mbappe, who had the Golden Boot with eight goals, had to finish second.
80th: After Nicolas Otamendi brings down substitute Kolo Muani inside the box, Kylian Mbappe steps up to convert from the spot with a powerful shot past Emiliano Martinez. Getty Images
That’s because Messi’s Argentina had Emiliano Martinez in the ranks. Martinez had cried like a child when Argentina lost to Germany in the final in 2014. On Sunday in Lusail, he once again wept but these were tears of joy. He saved Kingsley Coman’s shot and psyched out Aurelien Tchouameni, who fired wide. Argentina did not miss any of their four with Messi, as always the first penalty taker, Pablo Dybala, Leandro Paredes and Montiel all converting.
81st: From a move which was started by Kingsley Coman, Mbappe scores the equaliser to stun the world. He was off-balance and yet his powerful low volley across the goal was pinpoint accurate. Getty Images
For Argentina, one of their stars was Angel Di Maria, who came in place of Paredes in the starting eleven as coach Lionel Scaloni preferred a 4-3-3 formation. The move paid off as Di Maria was a constant threat on the left, making life miserable for Jules Kounde. Argentina got their first when Di Maria got under Ousmane Dembele’s skin and the winger inadvertently nudged him.
108th: After Lloris saves Lautaro Martinez’s shot, Messi, who was hovering in front of the goal, pushes it in. VAR check is done for off-side, but the goal stands. Getty Images
Penalty shouted the crowd and the player and the Polish referee agreed. Messi wrong-footed Lloris and Argentina were leading 1-0. The second came in the 33rd minute. Dayot Upamecano made a false pass, Argentina were quick on the break with Messi turning it around for Julian Alvarez on the right who saw Alexis Mac Allister making a run through the middle. Mac Allister, with no one in front, ran and then played it across to Di Maria. The man, who missed the 2014 World Cup final due to injury, slotted it passed a diving Lloris.
118th: France just wouldn’t give up. Mbappe’s shot hits Montiel’s arm inside the box and the referee awards a penalty. Mbappe steps up again, gets Martinez to dive to the wrong side and completes his hat-trick. Getty Images
Argentina were up 2-0. It looked as if it was all over for France, who did appear tired, especially in the first half. But from the 80th minute onwards, it became an extraordinary night of drama, high emotion and fluctuating fortunes, as the two teams delivered one of the all-time great finals to cap a wonderful tournament as their two star players delivered command performances on the biggest stage of all.
Argentina have the last laugh after Gonzalo Montiel scores with the fourth shot in the shootout. For France, Coman’s shot was saved by Martinez while Aurelien Tchouameni shot wide. The dramatic final started and ended with an Argentine celebration. Getty Images
Until then, France had barely fired a shot when Nicolas Otamendi tripped Randal Kolo Muani and Mbappe, previously anonymous, expertly converted the resulting penalty.
Barely a minute later, Messi lost the ball to Coman on the halfway line and play was switched to the left. Mbappe nodded the ball to Marcus Thuram and his return pass came to the France No.10 who swept in a brilliant equalising volley, stunning the massed Argentine fans watching their team concede two quick-fire goals for the third time in the tournament.
Argentina regained the lead after a counter-attack when the tireless Lautaro Martinez smashed a shot at Lloris and Messi pounced on the rebound with a rare right-footed finish, technology confirming the ball had crossed the line. The drama was not over, however, as Mbappe hammered a shot against the arm of Montiel to win another penalty in the 117th minute, which he calmly dispatched for an amazing hat-trick and a tournament-topping eighth goal.
That took the game to a shootout. Mbappe and Messi both converted the opening spot-kicks but then had to stand back and let their teammates decide their destiny.