LUSAIL, Qatar.- Lionel Messi finally conquered the highest soccer title.
Argentina beat France 4-2 on penalties on Sunday to clinch their third championship, despite Kylian Mbappé scoring the first hat-trick in a final in 56 years.
Gonzalo Montiel converted the decisive penalty in the shootout from 11 meters after a 3-3 draw after 120 minutes of a heart-stopping final.
“Come on Argentina the c… of your mother (profanity term). We are world champions!” Messi shouted to the frenzied mass of Argentine fans at the Lusail stadium.
Argentina added a third star after their consecrations in 1978 and 1986. The Albiceleste is the first team from South America to be crowned since Brazil’s victory in the 2002 tournament in Korea-Japan.
Knowing how to suffer to win was Argentina’s premise in the tournament. In the final too.
Visit here our special site about the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
It was a tactical first-half thrashing from Argentina with a stellar Messi, but the defending champions emerged from the darkness with fire from Mbappé.
In what has been a constant throughout the tournament, the South American team did not repeat the team compared to the previous match. Lionel Scaloni, his young 44-year-old coach, this time surprised with the entry of Di María from the start for a duel of sprinters with Mbappé.
The Italian Juventus footballer, who had missed the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil due to a tear, played a few minutes in the decisive phase in Qatar due to an overload in the quadriceps of his left leg. In the end, he was preparing for his last performance with the national team.
It was an aggressive start from Argentina, with midfielders Rodrigo De Paul, Enzo Fernández and Alexis Mac Allister like lions hungry for all blue prey. There was also a constant search for changes from the front towards Di María on the left behind Jules Koundé.
In one of the many runs by the Argentine, Dembelé committed a child foul on him in the area that was immediately penalized by the Polish referee Szymon Marciniak.
Messi stopped at the penalty spot, closed his eyes, took a deep breath and caressed the ball with his left foot. The ball, halfway up, entered as if in slow motion on the side opposite to the one Hugo Lloris had thrown, one of the best goalkeepers in the tournament.
The Albiceleste took the lead, as had happened in the previous six games they played in Qatar.
Like children in the pastures of the South American country, the Argentines had fun in the French backyard with a succession of touches before the second goal. Nahuel Molina recovered the ball in his own half and unloaded on Messi. La Pulga played first for Julián Álvarez, who in turn combined with Mac Allister. Faced with the only resistance from Dayot Upamecano, the English Brighton midfielder touched the middle of the area for Di María.
With the coldness of a murderer, the 34-year-old forward defined with his left foot. It was his first shout in Qatar.
France, the most dominant European team of the century with a title in three finals, was affected by a flu virus in the run-up to the decider, which affected several of its most important players such as Upamecano, Raphael Varane and Adrien Rabiot.
In intensive therapy, the French coach Didier Deschamps moved the bench, removed Dembelé, Antoine Griezmann and Oliver Giroud. The team got a boost on offense with Marcus Thuram, Randal Kolo Muani and Kingsley Coman.
On the Argentine side, a physical decline became evident. Scaloni took out Di María for Marcos Acuña, to form a line of five that ended up blurring the team and costing them dearly.
And in the Argentine confusion, Mbappé began his function.
With ten remaining, he beat Emiliano Martínez with a penalty, penalized for a foul by Otamendi on Kolo Muani. A minute later, the French star sealed his double for an unimagined draw.
Coman stole a ball in the middle from Messi himself at the start of an offensive play that ended with a spectacular volley from Mbappé.
The Argentine captain had the last word before lowering the 90-minute hammer with a left-footed shot from outside the area frustrated by Lloris.
In extra time, Lautaro Martínez threw a bomb that Lloris cleared, but Messi appeared like a leprechaun to push it. The defender Upamecano took it out of his own goal, but the referee signaled the goal.
They were the only goals scored by the star in the six finals he played with his team, between the World Cups and the Copa América. Among the many records he broke in Qatar, the Ten also became the first player in the history of the tournament to inflate the nets in the first round, decisive instance and final.
With the world titles and the Copa América, plus the two cries in the final, Messi surpassed the football production of Diego Maradona himself, who he could not convert in the only World Cup he won in 1986 or in the 1990 final.
But his team could not hold the advantage. The full-back Montiel cleared a shot from Mbappé with his forearm in the area that gave rise to the penalty that the striker himself executed to complete the hat-trick.
Before the penalty shootout, the Argentine goalkeeper saved a point-blank shot from Kolo Muani and then a lonely Martínez in the French area headed wide.
When the spotlight of the final was prepared for Messi and Mbappé, the goalkeeper “Dibu” Martínez became the hero of the film. After the two penalties from the Frenchman that he had not been able to save in the 1990s, the Aston Villa goalkeeper stepped up at the moment of truth and saved Coman’s shot. Then Tchouaméni missed his.
Argentina this time was forceful and did not let him escape.
It was the eleventh final between South America and Europe in the tournament’s history, with eight wins for the former.