FIFA World Cup: Messi-on Accomplished

Messi becomes World Cup winner despite Mbappe's hat-trick as Argentina beat France 4-2 on penalties in the final

Published: 19th December 2022 03:12 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th December 2022 03:52 PM   |  A+A-

Argentina's players celebrate with the FIFA World Cup trophy at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar, Dec. 18, 2022. (Photo | AP)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Just as the shadows were beginning to appear on a still sun-kissed Lusail Stadium, Argentina's players looked shell-shocked. A sea of green created an amazing racket and Saudi Arabia's players were lapping it all up. Old, familiar haunting questions were already being written. It was a horror story after the first 90 minutes. Lionel Messi, raging against the dying of light in his final tournament and in the November of his career, had had some moments but it was nowhere near good enough. One of the first questions that was given significant air time after that match — more rhetorical but it was being asked — was 'where is Messi?' That was November 22.

On December 18, Messi had answered those critics. Under the night-time Lusail sky, Messi, after enjoying an almost peerless World Cup save that match against Saudi Arabia, lifted the World Cup to give joy to millions of people back home. The final swung like a pendulum on steroids, twisting and turning like the run Messi had against Croatia's Josko Gvardiol, before Argentina reached the promised land. For the first time since 1986, La Albiceleste had conquered the world after 40 minutes of sheer bedlam, lunacy and stupidity.

PHOTOS | Jubilant Messi, Mbappe's agony at FIFA World Cup Final 

Argentina were coasting. At 2-0 with 10 minutes of normal time remaining, France, who had suffered an outbreak of some sort of virus in the week leading up to the final, finally came alive. They won a penalty which Kylian Mbappe duly converted. Less than 80 seconds later, the Frenchman, tipped to assume Messi's throne if he's not already ascended it, struck a fine equaliser. Lift-off.

One could feel the tension even through the TV sets as both coaches rung in the changes. Angel di Maria, who had provided a lovely initial burst with an assist and a goal, was removed so they were struggling for an outball. They had seemingly lost all composure. But when you have Messi, there is always a chance. That's what happened as he scored from a very close range from one of the very few chances they had after France's opening goal.


With frayed nerves and what was at stake, 12 minutes seemed too long to hold out. France kept charging forward and one of those attacks found a raised hand of Gonzalo Montiel in the box. Mbappe did the rest, despatching his second penalty of the night. Montiel, though, completed the redemption act as his penalty confirmed Argentina's status as world champions.

While Messi has his deliverance, credit should go to multiple players within the set-up. Starting with Angel di Maria who produced one of the all-time great performances. He earned the first penalty and scored the second goal. Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, who was struggling for game time in the Premier League as the pandemic started, twice came up with big saves in normal time before coming up trumps in the shoot-out. Young Turks Julian Alvarez and Enzo Fernandez, drafted into the starting XI after that Saudi Arabia defeat, produced multiple magic moments.

Argentina's World Cup campaign began with a whimper. It ended with Messi answering the one question people were asking after that Saudi Arabia defeat.

Where's Messi? At the top of the world, holding aloft the trophy that he dreamed of as a kid. 

ALSO READ: Just not Football: The human cost of Qatar 2022 World Cup


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