A true cup final at the highest level of football as two of the world’s quality sides played to a dramatic finish. Argentina were the victors as France mis-kicked two of their penalties in the shootout.
The Argentine goalkeeper was at his best as he blocked a kick by the French with good anticipation and reflexes. Emiliano Martinez also blocked a last-gasp chance that fell to the French in open play and that was his heroic part in this grande finale that was a thriller, full of suspense and ding-dong battle.
Argentina raced into a 2-0 lead in the first half and controlled the game up to the 60th-minute mark with an outstanding display drawing rings and knocking the ball around the French. It was uncharacteristic of the defending world champions to chase shadows but then the vein with which the Argentines controlled proceedings was absolutely masterful and a stamp on their pedigree.
Lionel Messi showed great technique in hesitating in a split second to see the direction of the French goalkeeper before dispatching the first spot-kick beyond his reach. It was the decision to fall inside the penalty box of France by Angel Di Maria, following a challenge on him.
The second by Argentina pictured greater finesse as some brilliant ball control in a string of passes found Di Maria at the end of the onslaught and he accurately finished off despite the hot chase by defenders.
But the second half saw urgent play from the French that became laborious against the South Americans. The latter appeared to have found the antidote to their explosive wing play that confounded opponents in previous marches. The obstructionist tactics by Argentina were zonal and man-marking as well as possessive football.
It was at this stage that another protagonist of the game pulled the trigger. A foul in the box got France a penalty which was superbly buried by Killian Mbappe. Pumping with adrenaline and venom as they fought to redeem their image and defend the trophy, France exploded in the wake of a little blink on the part of Argentina and Mbappe once again showed class with the nimble-footed connection at goal to a well-taken cross. 2-2 it was by the 78th minute and Argentina was stunned.
Well, historical surveys will locate one unchanging character of the Argentine game. They always have their leads canceled in crucial matches, in the momentary lack of concentration before sweating out for the winner. It happened in the quarter-finals in this tournament when the Netherlands leveled up, Australia also nearly had a shot at such a recovery, and as far back as1986 when the talismanic Diego Maradona helped the side to a hard-fought 3-2 victory over the then West Germany which had also taken advantage of the traditional second half recession in the Argentine game.
When this game tied up and went into the 30-minute extra time, Lionel Messi rose to the occasion, barging into the French 18-yard box in a merciless run that put the ball behind goalkeeper Llorin. The fast-motioned action with Messi having the last kick, saw the ball crossing the goal line before a desperate attempt at clearance.
The end-to-end action found France speedily at the other end, and Argentina conceded a penalty from a handball. Mbappe gave the goalkeeper no chance at all with scoring efficiency. Champions diehard and the French were back again on a level to take the match into the dreaded penalties which Argentina prevailed. The long journey of Lionel Messi from 2006 when he first kicked the ball at a world cup has ended in a glorious “retirement” on the same stage in 2022. The golden player of the tournament with his country itself ending the fruitless hunt for their third world title since 1986.
The morose-looking Mbappe whose midas touch in football is simply unquestionable was consoled by French President Emmanuel Macron after the game. This special player won the golden boot award, the first hat-trick in a world cup grand finale, sending his tally in Qatar to nine, Messi one goal shy of that haul.
What a way Argentina honours one of football’s greatest, Diego Armando Maradona who died in the year 2020, and to have another man in the person of Lionel Messi as a perfect garnish to that pursuit. Interestingly there was an enviable assemblage of great players of Argentina across time, present to witness this memorable occasion, and presumably same was true with the French team.
Argentina in this tournament mirrored the tenacious struggle to success, which often sees what will become heroic endings, not wilting on initial setbacks. And here Saudi Arabia will take pride in being the only side at Qatar 2022 to have downed the Argentines in their very first match before they revived their magic, a carbon copy of the 199o edition.
Argentina is 42 million dollars richer, and France is 30 million dollars.