The 36-year wait for Argentina is finally over as the most coveted 18-carat gold trophy in the world of football is again in the hands of the Albicelestes after winning a nail-biting 4-2 penalty shootout against reigning champion France on Sunday night (Monday morning in the Philippines) at the Lusail Iconic Stadium in Qatar.
Only two World Cup Final matches were decided on a penalty shootout. Brazil won 4-2 after a scoreless draw with Italy in 1994, and so did Italy, 5-3, after a 1-1 tie with France.
For the Lionel Scaloni-coached Argentinian team, the win gave Argentina its third World Cup title (1978 and 1986) while repaying their captain, Lionel Messi, for everything he has given to the game.
For Messi, playing in his fifth World Cup, this Final match would be remembered as the moment when the stars aligned for the 35-year-old forward for him to clinch the one prize that had eluded him in one of the most storied careers in football history.
It wasn’t an easy win for Messi and Argentina though, as young French superstar Kylian Mbappe kept on pulling his team back from the brink of defeat three times—converting a penalty shot in the 80th minute to cut Argentina’s lead to one, rifling the ball into the net a minute later to even the score at 2-2, and converting another penalty on the 118th minute to again even the score, 3-3, before the extra time ended.
Hat trick not enough
But Mbappe’s hat trick (the second player to do so in World Cup Final history) wasn’t enough as his French squad faltered in the shootout. Only Mbappe and Randal Kolo Muani were able to pass through Emiliano Martinez, the maverick Argentine goalkeeper and World Cup 2022’s best goalkeeper.
Argentina remained perfect in the penalty shootout as Messi, Paulo Dybala, Leandro Parades, and Gonzalo Montiel blanked French goalkeeper Hugo Loris.
Messi, playing in what could be his last Word Cup, responded to the adulation as he converted Argentina’s first goal, a penalty kick in the 23rd minute and another one in the 108th minute, a close range right-footer, to top France, 3-2.
The French team looked lifeless during the first 79 minutes of the game—the Les Bleus haven’t made any meaningful shot on goal—so French coach Didier Deschamps tried to reignite his team by making substitutions in the 41st minute (pulling out Dembele and Olivier Giroud) and in the 71st minute (inserting Eduardo Camavinga and Kingsley Coman).
With the fresh legs of Randal Kolo Muani, Marcus Thuram, Eduardo Camavinga and Kingsley Roman, the French side had their first sign of life when Muani was fouled in the penalty area in the 80th minute. A minute later, Mbappe, assisted by Thuram, again right-footed a shot that sailed to the bottom right corner of the net to even the game, 2-2.
Messi and Argentina thought they had the game in the 108th minute as they led 3-2, but another foul committed in the 118th minute led to Mbappe’s penalty kick to tie the score for the last time.
Argentina had already experienced the scary prospect of surviving a penalty shootout when they edged the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, 4-3, after finishing the game at 2-2.
Messi, in one of his pre-Final interviews, said: “People have understood that this is something we have to enjoy. We did extraordinary things: the Copa América, the 36 games unbeaten, a World Cup Final. Obviously, we all want to win it but it’s a football match and anything can happen. Hopefully, this will be different to Brazil [in 2014, when Argentina lost against Germany]. I don’t know if this is my best World Cup, but I’ve been enjoying it since we got here.”