It looks like just yesterday Enner Valencia crushed Qatar in the 2022 World Cup curtain-raiser.
As the dust settles on an exciting month of football action, fans were treated to arguably one of the greatest World Cup tournaments in sports history.
As it should, Sunday’s final exploded like fireworks to deliver the ultimate conclusion to Qatar 2022.
It was a final that had superstar rivalries, penalty shootouts, iconic goals and goalkeeping masterclasses, culminating in Lionel Messi being crowned world champions after Argentina beat France on penalties.
The piece de resistance, a moment that will long be remembered as an Impressionist masterpiece, is that iconic image of Messi – lifted on the shoulders of his teammates – with the World Cup trophy finally in his hands.
The best photos from the 2022 World Cup
This match had been billed as Kylian Mbappé versus Messi – the 23-year-old French star ready to take on the role of the world’s greatest player from his 35-year-old teammate at Paris Saint-Germain.
Mbappé was defending France’s victory in 2018 at the tournament in Russia, Messi was playing his final World Cup game, looking to win the trophy that had eluded him for so long and which would allow him to match Diego Maradona’s victory by winning the 1986 competition.
The first 79 minutes were dedicated to Messi. The Argentina captain converted the penalty to give Argentina the lead. Then his skillful touch was the key to initiating the movement that led to of the Albiceleste second.
Then in the closing stages of regulation time, Mbappé single-handedly took control of the match, scoring two goals in two minutes and sending the final into extra time.
Messi looked dejected and Mbappé looked like starting.
Except that it was the little Argentinian who then emerged to score his second goal of the match and restore his team’s lead in the 109th minute.
Refusing to accept defeat, Mbappe woke up his teammates, scoring a second penalty to grab his hat-trick and lead the final to a penalty shootout.
Both Mbappé and Messi scored in the shootout, but in the end – France missing two penalties – it was the Argentina captain who was mobbed by his teammates as his World Cup dream came true in real time.
For two hours of football, these two players – at two different points in their careers – demonstrated the beautiful game in vivid and glorious technicolor.
The last time a World Cup final ended in a penalty shootout was in 2006, when France were beaten again, this time by Italy.
Sometimes it seems unfair to settle a match as a shootout, a series of actions between the penalty taker and the goalkeeper.
However, at the Lusail stadium on Sunday, the abundance of penalties seemed to increase the pressure and tension.
Messi’s first-half penalty earned him his first goal in a World Cup final, while his kick in the shoot-out was coolness personified.
Mbappé’s ability to successfully convert not once, not twice, but three times from the spot in one game showed extreme judgement.
Previous to Qatar 2022, one team had already experienced the intensity of this pressure cooker atmosphere and emerged on the other side, and one that had not.
Argentina got the better of the Netherlands in the quarter-finals in a epic that culminated in a penalty shootout, and which saw the South American side display distraction and delaying tactics for without mentally doubt monster his opponents.
In Sunday’s final, Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez showed his ability to distract French takers, kicking the ball past Aurélien Tchouaméni’s attempt, which flew away. France’s previous attempt – from Kingsley Coman – was saved by Martinez.
A penalty shootout is unlike anything else in sport – it’s a modern-day duel and a World Cup final with so much at stake only increases the tension and drama.
World Cup finals are often tight and wary affairs, with goals to boot.
Argentina and France threw away that playbook – scoring six goals, two of them of the highest quality.
Argentina’s second was arguably as good as Carlos Alberto’s jaw-dropping goal in the 1970 World Cup final in Brazil’s 4-1 victory over Italy.
It was in the 35th minute, when a knock around the corner from Alexis Mac Allister to Messi, relieved the pressure on the Argentina defense as France pushed for the equaliser.
After Messi’s deft touch to Julián Álvarez and the Manchester City striker’s perfectly weighted pass to Mac Allister, who had continued his run, Argentina were on goal.
Selflessly, Mac Allister had the presence of mind to hand the ball to Ángel Di María who completed a brilliant counterattack to put Argentina ahead 2-0.
At the time, it seemed like the crowning glory of a dominating victory for Argentina, until Mbappé intervened.
After his penalty cut the deficit to 2-1, a neat brace with Marcus Thuram knocked the ball over the PSG star from the sky at the edge of the Argentine penalty area.
With seemingly all the time in the world, Mbappé produced a wonderful display of technique and timing to get the ball past a desperate Martínez.
These are the moments that capture imaginations and the moments that have come to define the 2022 World Cup final.
It will be remembered for many reasons – Messi’s moment in history, Mbappé’s hat-trick in defeat, the see-saw nature of the match which swung from start to finish and didn’t never stopped firing on the emotions of amazed spectators.
Of course, there is a lot of competition for the title of “biggest World Cup final”.
In 1950, Uruguay upset Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, while four years later West Germany provided another huge upset, beating Hungary’s Magical Magyars, winning the country its first league title. World Cup.
Geoff Hurst scored the first World Cup final hat-trick in the 1966 final between England and West Germany. We’re still talking about Hurst’s second goal 56 years later – had the ball crossed the line? He did, according to match officials, and England won 4-2.
The 1970 final marked Pele’s final World Cup appearance as he claimed his third title in Brazil’s crushing victory over Italy.
Four years later in Munich, the West German hosts came from behind to win 2-1 against a Dutch side of stars – consisting of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens – to win their second FIFA Cup. world.
Much like Messi at Qatar 2022, Diego Maradona almost single-handedly led his side to their second title in eight years, beating West Germany 3-2 in the final.
In 1998, France hosted and won its first World Cup, mainly thanks to the genius of Zinedine Zidane, author of a double in the final, against a formidable Brazilian team, made up of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Cafu, Bebeto and Roberto Carlos.
However, with its multiple stories and the drama and artistry on display, 2022’s showpiece now holds the title of ‘the greatest World Cup final’.