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