Lionel Messi is finally a world champion. And crossing the final hurdle for Argentina couldn't have been any more dramatic. Scoring twice, Messi led La Albiceleste to World Cup glory on Sunday (December 18) in one of the greatest and wildest finals.
Argentina won its third World Cup title by beating France 4-2 in a penalty shootout after a 3-3 draw in Lusail, Qatar.
Twists and turns: The match started with Argentina completely dominating the possession and attack in the first half. Messi scored a 23rd-minute penalty after Ousmane Dembele fouled Angel Di Maria. Later, in the 36th minute, Di Maria showed his class and scored the second goal where Messi orchestrated the attack with a swift touch in Argentina's half.
Argentina were leading 2-0 at half-time and looking all set for a comfortable victory. But, just like the Netherlands game, where Argentina lost the 2-0 lead after the 80th minute, Messi's team lost the advantage and France made a comeback.
In the last 10 minutes of the regulation time, Kylian Mbappe scored twice to equalize and force extra time. Randal Kolo Muani was fouled by Nicolas Otamendi in the penalty area and Mbappe scored from the spot in the 80th minute. A minute later, Mbappe scored again on a volley to bring France level.
Extra-time: Scoring two goals in less than 2 minutes, France were now pumped up and the Argentine defence looked in shambles. But Messi once again came to Argentina's rescue in the second period of extra time. After Hugo Lloris saved Lautaro Martinez's shot, Messi scored on the rebound in the 108th minute to give Argentina the lead.
But another drama was waiting to happen as Gonzalo Montiel's outstretched arm hit Mbappe's shot and the referee awarded a penalty to France. Mbappe didn't make any mistakes and became the first player to score a World Cup hat-trick since England's Geoff Hurst in 1966.
The score was now 3-3 and after the final whistle of extra time, the match went to penalties.
Penalty shootout: Penalties are all about luck, but when you have Emiliano Martinez as your goalkeeper, you will always have the upper hand. When Argentina were leading 2-0 at half-time against Croatia in the semis, Emi Martinez said to his teammates: "The goal is locked boys, they have to kill me to score a goal."
He enthused the same kind of confidence again during the penalties against France.
Mbappe and Messi took their teams' first penalties and scored.
Then Martinez saved Kingsley Coman's attempt and Paulo Dybala scored to give Argentina the lead. Aurelien Tchouameni also missed for France and Gonzalo Montiel held his nerves to score from the spot to give Argentina a 4-2 win.
France have conceded all the last 14 penalties against them in shootouts. France had lost shootouts in the Euro 2021 last 16 and the 2006 World Cup final.
Argentina looked like it would go to war for Messi: While Argentina were struggling in the 2018 World Cup, the other team members were looking at Messi with the hope of seeing some magic.
Messi, overburdened and underwhelmed at international football, would not disappoint. Whenever an Argentine player lost the ball around him, Messi would show his class and sudden burst of pace to reclaim the ball from the opposition players. He would then give the ball back to his teammate and walk past casually. As if giving a lesson in football to his players.
The exact same thing happened in Qatar too. Though Messi this time was more involved in goal scoring. He scored 7 goals and assisted 3.
The rise of the likes of Juan Alvarez, De Paul, Emilio Martinez, Enzo Fernandes and others made you feel as if this time this Argentina team would give its all to win the World Cup for Messi.
They were on a 36-game unbeaten run before their shock defeat to Saudi Arabia in their first game in Qatar. Had they not lost that game, they would have levelled Italy's all-time record of 37 games without a loss. But after that loss, La Albeceleste fought back and won six games in a row to lift the World Cup.