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World Cup: Messi leads Argentina to victory over France

December 18, 2022

Argentina have won the World Cup for the third time after beating France on penalties in Doha. Lionel Messi scored twice as he finally got his hands on football's most coveted prize, cementing his legendary status.

Argentina's team celebrating after winning the World Cup
Image: Nick Potts/PA Images/IMAGO

Argentina 3-3 France (Argentina win 4-2 on penalties)
(Messi pen 23', 109', Di Maria 36' - Mbappe pen 80', 81', pen 118')

Thirty-six years after Diego Maradona lifted the World Cup in Mexico, Lionel Messi followed suit in Qatar as Argentina became world champions again and Messi rubber-stamped his status as the greatest of all time in the greatest World Cup final of all time.

After leading 2-0 with ten minutes to go in normal time, and 3-2 with two minutes to go in extra time, La Albiceleste ultimately needed penalties to see off Kylian Mbappe and a France team which simply would not concede defeat.

Messi converted first for Argentina in the shootout, just as he'd opened the scoring from the spot in normal time, a precursor to one of the goals of the tournament. A swashbuckling counter-attack conceived deep in their own half found Messi, whose flick to Julian Alvarez was astounding. Alexis Mac Allister's cross reached Angel di Maria, who found the bottom corner. Even at 34, Di Maria remains a player for the biggest stage.

It was a stunning counter-attack goal and it had the masses of Argentine supporters singing "We want to win it for the third time" with greater gusto than ever before. The French have scaled the heights at World Cups and European Championships since their watershed night in Paris 24 years ago — but they appeared dazed and confused by Argentina at the Lusail Iconic Stadium.

Kylian Mbappe celebrates his third goal for France in the 2022 World Cup final against Argentina
Kylian Mbappe scored a hat trick for France — but was still on the losing sideImage: Juan Luis Diaz/Agencia MexSport/IMAGO

Mbappe and Messi face off

But they still had Mbappe, and they still had head coach Didier Deschamps who, with Les Bleus staring their dethroning in the face, responded with a double substitution before the interval. As some of his biggest players failed to rise to the occasion as they did four years ago in Russia, Deschamps withdrew the abject Ousmane Dembele and ineffective Olivier Giroud to make way for Bundesliga pair Marcus Thuram, whose father Lilian won the World Cup in 1998, and Randal Kolo Muani.

Both were involved in setting up a late comeback, but Mbappe was the executioner, first from the penalty spot with ten minutes remaining of the 90, and then on the volley less than two minutes later, flipping the game on its head and renewing French belief.

Extra time followed and penalties loomed, but neither side were done. As if personally offended by the impudence of the the 23-year-old Mbappe in the way an old king might react to a princely upstart, Messi wrestled back control of the narrative, literally forcing the ball over the line to make it 3-2 and surely cement his transformation from footballing demigod to fully-fledged Argentine deity.

But no, this spectacular game of football had yet another twist, as Mbappe, Messi's club teammate at Paris Saint-Germain, fired in his third goal from the spot to become only the second player to score a World Cup final hat trick, after England's Geoff Hurst became the first in 1966.

And so it was decided on penalties, with Argentina prevailing 4-2 in the shootout. Thirty-six years of hurt was over in an iconic advert for the Beautiful Game.

Spare a thought for Mbappe though; three goals in a World Cup final but still on the losing side. Blessed with explosive speed and callous finishing, he already has 12 World Cup goals across two tournaments, including four in two finals. Former German international Miroslav Klose’s record of 16 will surely be surpassed by this extraordinary player from the suburbs of Paris, who leaves Qatar as the tournament's top scorer.

Lionel Messi kisses the World Cup trophy
At 35, Messi has finally got his hands on the trophy he craved mostImage: Manu Fernandez/AP Photo/picture alliance

Messi's finest moment

But this was ultimately Messi's night; his crowning glory of an unparalleled career. Since making his debut for Barcelona in 2003, Messi has set countless scoring and assist records, scored too many memorable goals to remember, all while playing the game with a grace that few in the history of the game can rival. His performance in this final was his career in a microcosm.

However, he's experienced the full range of emotions in an Argentina shirt. Defeat by Germany in the 2014 final left him in tears and he was on the brink of retiring from international football following Argentina's loss to Chile in the Copa America final two years later — but reversed his decision.

"In the dressing room I thought the national team was over for me, but it is not," Messi said in 2016, after confirming he would continue. His exceptional goal against Nigeria briefly gave Argentina hope in Russia in 2018, but their journey would end against Deschamps' France in the last 16.

But four years on and at the age of 35, Messi has finally done it. In what could be his final international game, he has won the only trophy that had eluded him and silenced anyone who says he remains in Diego Maradona's shadow. The only regret is that, two years after his untimely death, Maradona himself is not around to see it.

Edited by: Matt Ford