Lionel Messi joins immortals Diego Maradona and Pele as Argentina beat France in World Cup final for the ages


history made, destiny fulfilled, immortality assured – and what a game to do so.

Lionel Messi elevated his legend and emulated Diego Maradona with a perfect finish, scoring twice as Argentina were crowned world champions for the third time.

In one of the great World Cup finals, perhaps the greatest, Messi’s Argentina beat France on penalties after a 3-3 draw at the Lusail Iconic Stadium.

Twice Messi thought he had inspired Argentina to victory, only for Kylian Mbappe to become the first man since Sir Geoff Hurst to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final, as France, defending champion, refused to give up her crown without an all-powerful fight.

In the end, it was the Messi vs. Mbappe final that many had hoped for and predicted, although the dwindling drama meant the game itself almost transcended its two biggest players. It was a match for the ages on any stage, not to mention the greatest match of all on the greatest stage of all.

Argentina were leading 2-0 through Messi and Angel Di Maria with barely half an hour left and were heading for victory before Mbappe struck twice within 97 seconds, in the 80th and 81st minutes. His first was a penalty, the second a superb volley.

Just as they did against the Netherlands, Lionel Scaloni’s side responded to their implosion to improve in extra time and Messi scored his second of the game with what seemed to be the most goal and moment. important in his career.

But Mbappe netted his second penalty of the night to force the penalty shootout, eventually won 4-2 by Argentina, with both superstars scoring again.

Kingsley Coman and Aurélien Tchouameni missed for France, who did not deserve to lose. Nobody did.

Messi was naturally at the center of Argentina’s wild and tearful celebrations, the 35-year-old finally getting his hands on the World Cup trophy on the fifth and final attempt and doing what his idol Maradona never could scoring in the final.

Messi raised his legend and imitated Diego Maradona

/ Getty Images

The feat was surely made all the more special and memorable as Argentina had to win this match three times.

On the cusp of a dream, Messi came close to facing his ultimate nightmare, a lifetime of regrets, but Argentina’s scares should have only made their final triumph sweeter. Rarely has football told a more seductive story than this.

Although he was cruel to Mbappe, the heir to Messi’s crown as the best player and biggest star on the planet, Messi was a deserving winner.

He was once again the heart of Argentina, involved in everything positive about Lionel Scaloni, including their second goal – a magnificent team move finished by Di Maria.

The little magician opened the scoring from the spot after Di Maria was fouled and volleyed from close range in the 108th minute after Hugo Lloris could only parry an effort from Lautaro Martinez.

Such is Messi’s universalism, his triumph will be celebrated around the world, from the squares of Buenos Aires to the streets of Mumbai to the beaches of Dar Es Salaam and back again.

There will even be celebrations across France and the rest of South America. Messi is a talent that crosses borders and historic rivalries, has sold a billion replica shirts and inspired a reverence not seen since Maradona, who almost single-handedly coached Argentina at their last World Cup in 1986.

It’s not the end for Messi – shockingly, Paris Saint-Germain’s return to Ligue 1 in 10 days – but it felt like a culmination, the end point of more than 15 years of unprecedented excellence.

It was the Messi vs Mbappe final that many were hoping for

/ Getty Images

Messi should continue to shine in the Champions League for PSG but will never light up the biggest stage of them all again.

The final was the last chance for a generation that grew up or aged watching Messi to see him influence a game of this magnitude, so it was only fitting that he finally win the only prize that has eluded him so far, and the one what he wanted above all.

Messi became the first man to score in every knockout round of a World Cup, but he clearly couldn’t have done it alone.

There were other heroes, including Emi Martinez who saved Coman in the shootout and did enough to fend off Tchouameni, who fired wide.

Di Maria was particularly magnificent, winning the penalty for Messi’s first goal when he was stumbled by Ousmane Dembele, and Scaloni’s decision to replace him with 30 minutes to play looked in danger of becoming a costly mistake when France roared.

Deschamps, on the other hand, deserved huge credit for introducing Randal Kolo Muani and Marcus Thuram before half-time for the abject Ousmane Dembele and Olivier Giroud.

Di Maria will go down as another story for the ages in Argentina, having missed the 2014 final through injury and hasn’t played in Qatar since being forced out with an injury in the second match.

But it was about Messi more than anyone, about his own arc of redemption after losing eight years ago and about his ultimate farewell.

It should not be forgotten that there is also a darker side to Messi’s triumph, who will now forever be associated with a World Cup built on death and exploitation.

Hosts Qatar couldn’t have imagined a better result than Messi, their own poster boy at PSG, crowning his career by lifting their tournament trophy in a match like this.

Qatar owns Messi and now they also own a big part of his ultimate achievement.

Even amid the celebrations in Argentina, Gianni Infantino was booed as he took the stage to present the trophy to Argentina. Naturally, the greatest joy of all belonged to Messi.


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