Argentina beat France on penalties to win World Cup

Argentina beat France on penalties in one of the great all-time World Cup finals on Sunday, despite a hat-trick from former Monégasque Kylian Mbappé.

The final was presented as a battle between Mbappé and Lionel Messi. The two Paris Saint-Germain teammates are at opposite ends of their careers. For the latter, it was the last chance to win the only trophy that eluded the Argentinian great, often described as the best player to grace the Beautiful Game. 

It was first-blood Messi. France captain Hugo Lloris said pre-match, that Les Bleus were “prepared to suffer”, but the extent to which Didier Deschamps’ men struggled in the first-half was nonetheless a shock. Messi opened the scoring from the spot after Ousmane Dembélé, who put in one of the worst individual performances in World Cup final history, tripped Ángel Di María in the box.

Argentina continued to push. The provider turned goalscorer after a beautiful free-flowing move, leaving Di María visibly emotional as he celebrated in front of a reported 50,000 Argentinian fans.

France looked completely bereft of ideas, and Antoine Griezmann, so often the metronomic force that made France tick looked like the only functional piece in a broken clock. Without the pieces around him, he couldn’t exert his usual level of control on the biggest stage.

However, Argentina, seemingly sauntering to their third World Cup victory, took their foot off the accelerator. Doing that against a side containing Mbappé is always a risky move, and Lionel Scaloni’s side were punished.

Randal Kolo Munai got the better of Nicolás Otamendi and earned a penalty in the 80th minute, which was confidently dispatched by Mbappé. The former AS Monaco man then got on the scoresheet again just a minute later, levelling the scores with an acrobatic volleyed effort.

The unlikely comeback sent the final to extra-time, and as legs became weary, spaces began to appear. Argentina took the lead again through Messi, in what felt like a game of oneupmanship at times. Naturally, therefore, Mbappé replied, completing his hat-trick, becoming the first player to do so since Geoff Hurst in 1966. He also becomes the all-time World Cup final top-scorer in the process. Randal Kolo Muani then had a huge chance to finish the game in the last minute of extra time, but he was denied by a brilliant Emiliano Martinez save.

No individual or collective brilliance could prevent the game from going to penalties, where Argentina finally killed off their opponents. After Messi and Mbappé dispatched their opening penalties, Kingsley Coman’s effort was saved by Argentina’s Martinez. Former Monaco midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni then missed his spot-kick, leaving Gonzalo Montiel as the player to hammer the nail in the coffin, ending Les Bleus’ dreams of becoming the first country to win back-to-back World Cup winners since Brazil in 1962.

Post-match, French president Emmanuel Macron rued the country’s missed chance. “We were very far off at the end of the first half. There have already been comebacks like that, but it’s very rare in the history of football. We came back amazingly. What Mbappé and the whole team did is extraordinary. We found our hunger again. I really believed we would do it. We had a miraculous second half, coming back from nowhere, and we had match point,” he said.

France’s loss is Argentina’s gain, the Albiceleste exorcise the demons of 2014, and give Messi the greatest prize in his final World Cup game.


Photo by Rhett Lewis, Unsplash

On-the-buzzer Okobo winner sends Roca Team top

A last-second Elie Okobo three-pointer secured a slender victory for AS Monaco Basketball (92-89), sending them to the top of the Euroleague, in what Sasa Obradovic described as an “improvised” victory.

Friday night’s visitors to the Salla Gaston Médecin, Alba Berlin, arrived in the Principality as the underdogs. The German side were bottom of the Euroleague and had lost their last 10 matches in the competition.

Having marched into an early lead, those in attendance would have been fooled into thinking that the result was a foregone conclusion. Alba clung on to Monaco, showing a strong defensive resistance and taking their opportunities when they came. Tim Schneider, who made all five of his three-pointer attempts was a source of deflation for the Roca Team, who struggled to build a gap.

Holding a seven-point advantage heading into the final-quarter, Jaron Blossomgame (16 points), who also found success outside the arc, made his three-pointer to create a 10-point lead (77-67). However, 12 of the next 14 points would go Alba’s way, with another Schneider T3 giving the away side the lead (77-80).

An Alpha Diallo (20 points) dunk handed Monaco a slender advantage with just a couple of minutes on the clock (85-83). But Donta Hall then missed one of his signature dunks, and parity was then restored with just 17 seconds left on the clock.

Mike James, as he was during the midweek defeat against Barcelona, was largely constrained. Someone else had to step up to prove the match-winner, and that person was Elie Okobo (11 points). The Frenchman took control of the final possession, biding his time before taking his shot from just behind the arc with under a second on the clock. The shot made, the Salle erupted with Prince Albert II and all of those in attendance celebrating joining Fenerbahçe and Barcelona at the top of the Euroleague. All are tied on 10 wins.

With only 48 hours between the two Euroleague matches this week, Obradovic bemoaned the lack of preparation time and attributed this factor to what was an underwhelming, but ultimately successful night of basketball.  “Not having time to prepare the game, meant they surprised us. We improvised because of a lack of preparation. Their defence surprised us. Sometimes we adapted well, other times not so well,” said the Roca Team coach.

Top spot retained in Betclic, despite defeat

On Sunday, and once again with very little preparation times, the Roca Team were in Betclic Elite action. Obradovic’s side succumbed to a surprise defeat to Le Portel (89-81), but still retained top spot in the domestic division.

The game was ultimately lost in the first quarter, during which Monaco were in difficulty on both sides of the court (33-13). A comeback of sorts took hold in the second quarter, and the beginning of the third, but Le Portel regained their grip on the tie having briefly fallen behind.

Despite the defeat, Obradovic’s side remain top with 11 wins. Boulogne-Levallois, led by Victor Wembanyama, look likely to be Monaco’s closest challenger this season, and they are currently one win behind and with a game in hand.


Photo by Monaco Life