Argentina have won the 2022 World Cup final.
They beat the defending champions France on penalties after one of the most memorable finals in living memory.
It was the third time in their history that they had won the trophy, but the first since 1986. France, meanwhile, missed out on the chance to join the prestigious club that still includes just Italy and Brazil, as the only nations to have successfully defended their title.
Winning the trophy has also helped cement the legacy of Argentina’s captain and talisman Lionel Messi as one of the greatest players who has ever lived.
Playing in his 26th – and last World Cup game – he finished the evening by lifting the trophy he desired more than any other.
And it also proved to be a remarkable comeback for his side, who had lost their opening group game to Saudi Arabia in one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history. It is not how a team starts a tournament that counts, but how they finish it.
The pre-match billing was dominated by suggestions that this would be a match-up between Messi and his PSG team-mate Kylian Mbappé. In the end, both protagonists would have a major impact on the match.
Meanwhile the French camp were hit by a wave of illness that swept through their camp, which was variously attributed to the flu and Covid, whilst some conspiracy theorists have even alleged that the team was poisoned, although there is no evidence to support this.
Whilst more finals are tense, edgy affairs, this was different from the start, with Argentina much the better side.
They were gifted the lead, though, when Ousmane Dembélé needlessly pushed the winger Angel Dí Maria in the box, giving the Polish referee an easy decision to make. Messi stepped up and calmly rolled his penalty past Hugo Lloris in the French goal.
Messi then initiated the move that led to the second goal, with Julian Alvárez and Alexis Mac Allister also involved, before Dí Maria finished it at the back post.
France were struggling to get any foothold in the game, and. so unimpressed was their manager, Didier Deschamps, by what he was seeing, that he decided to substitute both Dembélé and Olivier Giroud before half-time, and move Mbappé into a more central role.
It had no immediate discernible effect, and, it took until the 67th minute for his side to even have a shot on target.
However, out of nowhere, they were handed a lifeline when they were awarded a penalty of their own when Nicolas Otamendi clumsily challenged Muani in the box.
Emi Martínez in the Argentina goal guessed the right way, but Mbappé’s shot still beat him.
Within 97 seconds France were level, when Mbappé swept home a cross from the right with a volley from the outside of his right foot.
From being seemingly out for the count, France were suddenly invigorated, and it was they who looked the more likely to score in what remained of normal time.
Whilst there are some who argue that extra time tends to produce a stalemate, on this occasion there was no let-up in the excitement, with both teams looking for the winner.
Argentina thought they had secured it in the 108th minute when Lloris could not hold on to a fierce shot from substitute Lautaro Martínez, and Messi bundled the rebound home, with goal-line technology used to determine the ball had crossed the line before it was scrambled clear by a French defender.
Mbappé, though, was not finished yet either, and he completed his hat-trick after a foul by Gonzalo Montiel in the box was penalised with the award of yet another penalties. There were just two minutes left on the clock at that stage.
That meant penalties would be used to decide the winner, with Argentina winning the toss to decide ends, whilst France were awarded the honour of going first.
Both Mbappé and Messi, first up for their countries, converted theirs, but then the supporting cast let down France. Kingsley Coman saw his effort saved by Martínez, diving to his right, whilst Aurélien Tchouaméni screwed his effort wide of the post altogether.
Argentina, meanwhile, had converted all of theirs, and it was left to Montiel to atone for his earlier effort by coolly slotting home the spot kick that saw his side achieve World Cup glory.
Despite the very best efforts of Mbappé, Messi would not be denied his place in history in the end.
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