In a dramatic final that extended late into the night, Argentina defeated defending champions France 4-2 in the penalty shoot-out to win the World Cup trophy after a gap of 36 years. The epic final capped off a month-long tournament that saw some of the most thrilling matches in the tournament’s history, with twists and turns that kept fans on the edge. Amid all the on-field and off-field drama, the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar turned out to be one of the most successful editions in the tournament’s 92-year history.
Argentina will no doubt be cherishing the victory for years to come, but it is Lionel Messi and his fans who will feel truly vindicated by the trophy. The trophy represents the ultimate triumph that eluded one of the greatest players of his generation, with the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner now joining Pele and Diego Maradona as an all-time great of the sport.
A Thrilling Victory
Argentina started the night on the front foot, with Angel di Maria coming back to the team to act as the team’s frontline attacker. Defending champions France had the odds in their favour before the start of the game, but in the first half, they put up one of the worst performances by any team in the tournament. Les Bleus had zero shots at the goal in the first half and were barely able to complete any passes beyond the halfway line.
In fact, so poor were France during the first hour of the game that they had zero touches in Argentina’s penalty box. While out of possession, they looked clumsy – with Angel di Maria earning a penalty in the 21st minute for Argentina. Lionel Messi swiftly converted it into a goal by rolling the ball into the bottom-left corner.
It was Angel di Maria who continued to threaten France the most, while Lionel Messi was content to lay back in the midfield. Kylian Mbappe was effectively cut off by the Albiceleste, with the 24-year-old helplessly lounging on the left flank waiting for the ball. A brilliant combination play in the 36th minute saw Argentina extend their lead – with Alexis Mac Allister making a brilliant pass to Angel di Maria who scored a goal in the final of a tournament for the third consecutive time.
As the game entered its last 15 minutes, Argentina were cruising to victory. No team has ever overturned a two-goal deficit in the final of a World Cup, and France looked like the least likely team to do so. Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann were both substituted out, with Kylian Mbappe remaining the sole dangerous man on the ground.
A penalty was all they needed to lift their spirits, with Kylian Mbappe taking the shot to come back on level terms with Lionel Messi. The Paris Saint-Germain star then scored a quick goal just 97 seconds later, bringing back life into the stadium and deflating Argentina’s tired players. The game went into extra time, with Lionel Messi scoring his second goal of the night to put Argentina back in charge.
But the drama did not end there, as a Gonzalo Montiel handball earned France a penalty. Kylian Mbappe did not make any mistakes, becoming just the second man in World Cup history to score a hat-trick in the final.
In the penalty shoot-out, both the leading stars went first. Argentina’s Emiliano Martinez became the man of the moment for Argentina as he stopped the efforts of Kingsley Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni. It was Gonzalo Montiel’s turn to correct his earlier mistake – as he converted from the spot to give Argentina the victory.
How Argentina Transformed Themselves
In his long and cherished career, Lionel Messi’s role with the national team stood out as a sore spot. Despite boasting one of the greatest players of the generation among their ranks, Argentina were not able to improve their fortunes at any tournament for much of the last decade. Unlike Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, which won the Euros in 2016, Argentina were unable to come out of the shadow of Brazil in Latin America.
Much of the credit for Argentina’s success in the past two years should go to their manager, Lionel Scaloni. He was initially appointed as the Albiceleste’s caretaker manager after their exit from the 2018 World Cup in Russia, alongside Pablo Aimar. When Lionel Scaloni was appointed as the country’s full-time manager for the 2019 Copa America, there was widespread opposition to his appointment.
But Lionel Scaloni continued his mission with focus – that being transforming the team to take full advantage of Lionel Messi’s presence. Argentina’s captain is one of the most revered players in Argentina, with the 35-year-old earning the trust and respect of his colleagues to a degree that other senior players rarely manage to do. Under Scaloni, Lionel Messi was given a free hand concerning his role and position in the field. The role of other players at the front and in the midfield was to adapt to how Lionel Messi is playing, successfully utilising his full potential.
The approach paid rich dividends, with Argentina going on to win the Copa America in 2021 – their first title since 1993. Lionel Messi, who earlier struggled to score with his national side, was involved in nine of the team’s 12 goals in the tournament – earning the Player of the Tournament award.
After their initial defeat to Saudi Arabia, Argentina’s chances of winning the World Cup came under doubt. In the annals of World Cup history, the defeat will go down as one of the tournament’s greatest upsets. But Lionel Scaloni and his men did not lose hope. The team quickly regrouped, with five changes made to the starting XI in the next game against Mexico. The changes worked, but Lionel Scaloni still was not content – giving two different players a spot in the starting XI for the last group stage game against Poland.
This determination of the team to constantly adapt to the circumstances while keeping Lionel Messi’s genius at its core has propelled the side to victory in the FIFA World Cup 2022. They are neither the ‘Golden Generation’ of Argentina, nor are they the best team in the world right now, but when the occasion calls, Argentina’s players have mastered the art of rising to the occasion – and it is that spirit which made them World Champions.
G.O.A.T Debate Settled For Now
With yet another Golden Ball award to his name, Lionel Messi has added to the long list of his achievements. A Ballon d’Or nomination is guaranteed, and the chances of him bagging the award for the eighth time are higher than ever before. His season with Paris Saint-Germain is going relatively smoother, although there might be issues going forward with Kylian Mbappe in the same team.
For a long time, the Greatest of All Time debate has seen no resolution – with both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi excelling on equal terms. But with a World Cup trophy to his name, Lionel Messi might have settled the debate for now. Clinching the Golden trophy is considered the pinnacle of all achievements in football, and Lionel Messi now joins legends like Pele, Diego Maradona and Ronaldo Nazario as an all-time great of international football.
But what makes Lionel Messi’s claim to the status even more secure is the extent of his involvement with the team in the tournament. While Cristiano Ronaldo was benched for the knockout rounds, Lionel Messi was an integral part of all of Argentina’s games – regardless of the outcome.
While it is not the end of the road for Cristiano Ronaldo yet, Lionel Messi is now undoubtedly the greatest player of this generation.
VISIT OUR BLOG TO GET YOUR FIX FOR ALL OF THE MOST CURRENT FOOTBALL NEWS STORIES & FEATURES