by: Kyrus Mathew Pampanga || Photo Credit: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Arguably, the most splendid championship game in the history of sports.
Defying odds in the world of football, Argentina conquered the reigning champions France over an epic penalty kick shootout, 4-2, after the teams reached full time with a 3-3 draw last Sunday at the jam-packed Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar.
Sealing the deal in sheer bliss, the 25-year-old defender Gonzago Montiel clinched the third World Cup trophy for Argentina with a defining penalty kick into the back of the net against French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Lionel Messi—the most decorated player of his generation and captain of the Argentine team—delivered a fitting end in what is expected to be his final World Cup appearance, achieving the prestigious glory that had thwarted him during an extensive and illustrious career.
“It’s just crazy that it became a reality this way. It took so long, but here it is,” Messi stated. “I craved for this so much. I knew God would bring this gift to me. I had the feeling that this [World Cup] was the one.”
Commanding his team to a lopsided victory, Messi opened up the scoreboard on a 23rd-minute penalty kick and assisted Ángel Di María to score in the 36th minute after finishing off a five-pass team move with a staggering flick over a sluggish showing France.
Proving to be the familiar European giants, the French team sprung back into life as Kylian Mbappé punched back and equalized in style by registering two goals in less than two minutes to take the match to extra time, which left the South Americans stunned.
Well into the additional half-hour was an incredible display of grit and talent from the two superstars of both teams. Messi safeguarded the ball home to restore Argentina’s lead in the 108th minute, 3-2, but Mbappé tied the score once more within the last two minutes, 3-3, yielding him a hat-trick—scoring three goals during a single match—the first in a World Cup final since 1966.
Concluding the roller-coaster showpiece event, the blazing Argentine team worked hand-in-hand during the penalty-kick shootout by scoring all four of its spot kicks while Emiliano Martínez, the goalkeeper of the tournament, saved the French Kingsley Coman’s attempt.
With the victory laying in his hands, Montiel’s decisive effort to put his shot into the net led Argentina to claim their crown after roughly thirty-six years, and Messi finally raised his trophy in front of almost 89,000 fans in attendance—most cheering for the South Americans.
“I cannot believe that we have suffered so much in a perfect game. Unbelievable, but this team responds to everything,” Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said. “For us in Argentina, football is something more than just a game, it’s a historic moment for our country.”
The victory for Argentina marked the end of twenty years of European dominance in World Cup grounds, as Brazil in 2002 was the last South American champions to claim the title.
Messi, who was making a historic 26th appearance in a World Cup match, was awarded as the player of the tournament after scoring goals in all four knockout rounds. Conversely, the 23-year-old Mbappé finished the World Cup as its top scorer with eight goals to take home the Golden Boot.
“It was the World Cup of records tonight,” France coach Didier Deschamps stated after the match. “And Kylian Mbappé really left his mark on this final. Unfortunately, he didn’t leave the mark he would have liked.”
The World Cup champions Argentina will earn $42 million in prize money for their soccer federation while the losing team France, third place Croatia, and fourth place Morocco will receive $30 million, $27 million, and $25 million from FIFA, respectively.