Lionel Messi cements his place among the greats after winning an epic duel against Kylian Mbappe


Now there can be no more arguments. Now there should be no debate.

In the most dramatic and harrowing way imaginable, Lionel Messi finally got his hands on the World Cup and cemented his place in the pantheon of footballing greats, alongside Diego Maradona and Pele.

The final was as good as football can get. A match for the ages with a fairy tale ending.

Messi and Kylian Mbappé, the two superstars of the game, faced off in arguably the greatest World Cup final in history. Football may be a team game, but this was a fight between two players who will be remembered as all-time greats.

Mbappé scored a remarkable hat-trick, making him the second man in history to do so in a World Cup final, and won the Ballon d’Or – awarded to the tournament’s top scorer – but failed. failed terribly in his efforts to retain the trophy single-handedly. for France.

At only 23 years old, Mbappé’s astonishing performance has further confirmed his status as the future of the sport. He has now scored four goals in World Cup finals, the most of any player in history, and is level with Pele on 12 World Cup goals. He has time to overtake all-time World Cup goalscorer Miroslav Klose on 16.

But for all the history Mbappé created on a heady lit night in Doha, it was Messi’s final. The Argentinian captain was not yet ready to pass the torch.

The 35-year-old has been relentlessly brilliant throughout this tournament, playing with a steely courage and determination that stemmed from an innate belief that this trophy was his destiny, a glorious farewell to the World Cup written in the stars.

After Gonzalo Montiel netted the winning penalty, Messi dropped to his knees and buried his face in his hands. The moment he always had dreamed was finally here.

His teammates flocked to him, dropping to their knees to embrace their captain; they had wanted to earn this as much for him as for themselves.

Together, they stood up and walked over to their adoring fans to join in the celebrations. It is estimated that around 40,000 Argentine fans traveled to Qatar and expressed their support throughout the tournament.

The players had the Argentine flag draped over their shoulders and tied around their waists, jumping in unison with the wall of white and blue shirts in the main stand of the Lusail stadium.

They’ve had to be patient and endured their share of heartache since their last World Cup victory in 1986, but it was worth the wait.

Messi's teammates join him in celebration.

Messi burst into life in the space of three minutes at the Lusail stadium, scooping the ball up in a pocket of space between the midfield and the France defense and instantly kicking a wide ball wide left into Angel’s path Di Maria.

It led to the game’s first chance – with Messi also involved in the build-up again, trading quick passes on the edge of the box – but ultimate defense and the linesman’s flag prevented Julian Alvarez from having a clean look.

It’s no secret that winning the World Cup with Argentina was Messi’s dream, bordering on obsession.

While there is no doubt that at 35 Messi is slowing down his nigh-superhuman powers which are beginning to wane, there have still been several moments in this World Cup of the absurd and magical brilliance that fans have become accustomed to. see more years.

His goal against Mexico and the assists against the Netherlands and Croatia are undoubtedly among his most memorable in an Argentine shirt and helped lead this team to the final, giving the little magician one last chance to win the trophy. what he dreams of the most.

Messi's teammates celebrate with him after scoring the first goal.

In the 23rd minute, Messi had the chance to further cement his name in history with another career-defining moment, after a clumsy foul from Ousmane Dembélé knocked Di María down in the penalty area.

Messi then came forward to take the spot-kick, becoming the only man to score in the group stage, round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final of a single FIFA Cup. world, according to Opta. Just when you think there can be no more records to break, Messi finds another.

He is also the second oldest player to score in a final and with this 26th appearance in the World Cup, no male player has appeared in so many World Cup matches. His performances also earned him the Golden Boot, the tournament’s best player award.

For all his remarkable and ridiculous ability, penalties are perhaps the major part of the game that Messi has struggled with over the years, missing several on big occasions.

It had no impact on his confidence, however, as he stepped up and nonchalantly rolled the ball into the corner, sending Hugo Lloris the wrong way.

He also played a part in Argentina’s exquisite second, sparking the counter-attack that led to Di María’s goal with a delicious little kick around the corner for Julián Álvarez.

Messi even joined in defensive duties for Argentina, running back and pocketing Randal Kolo Muani, who was brought in by Dider Deschamps in a shock double substitution before half-time.

Not even the most ardent and optimistic Argentine fan could have dreamed of a first half as good – and simple – as that of Messi and his teammates.

It seemed impossible that it was the same team that stunned Saudi Arabia in the group opener – a performance so devoid of character and heart that it left many wondering if Argentina would even come out of the group.

Messi receives adulation from the crowd after scoring his penalty.

But as the tournament progressed, both Argentina and Messi got better.

With every passing performance, every moment of Messi’s magic, fans had begun to believe the script was already written, that the Rosario lad would end his World Cup career – he said it would be his last – in the biggest way imaginable. . Few, however, could have predicted such a thrilling finale.

As the second half progressed, the Argentine fans inside the stadium and the tens of millions of other spectators around the world would have become more and more convinced that it would indeed be a victory for routine, the culmination of a lifelong dream.

But as brilliant as Argentina were, France were equally disappointing. According to Opta, it was the first time since 1966, when statistics began to be compiled, that a team did not register a shot on goal in the first half of a final.

stefano pozzebon world cup argentina

Argentina fans stun reporter as they celebrate World Cup victory

It was a historically poor performance from France and Mbappé. Until it doesn’t.

In the space of an unlikely 90 seconds, France came from 2-0 down to level the game and, in perhaps the most predictable twist ever, it was Mbappé who struck twice.

The first was a weak penalty, drilled with just enough power to nestle into the bottom corner, despite a handball from Emi Martinez, and the second a superb volley after receiving a return pass from Marcus Thuram.

It was a cruel twist of fate for Messi as he was responsible for giving away the ball which led to France’s equaliser. After dragging his team to the brink of immortality, Messi’s mistake proved he was indeed mortal.

Still, there was more to come.

Messi got his moment, his second goal, tapping in after Lloris saved Lautaro Martínez’s strike – it was Messi’s 98th goal in an Argentina shirt, and it was undoubtedly his biggest yet.

But still France, and more specifically Mbappé, were not done.

Messi won the only trophy that had eluded him in his career.

The Paris Saint-Germain striker stepped in after Montiel blocked his own with his arm and buried his second kick to lead this quite remarkable final on penalties.

It was fitting for Messi and Mbappé to score their penalty kicks after producing one of the best duels the sport has ever seen, but more heroism from Martinez in the Argentine goal saw Messi lift the trophy.

Ever since he was old enough to kick a ball, Messi’s greatest desire has been to win the World Cup with Argentina. It was never going to be easy, but through sheer willpower, he finally achieved his life’s dream.


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