World Cup 2022: Argentina, France play best final ever

After Ousmane Dembele fouled Angel Di Maria in the box and referee Szymon Marciniak pointed to the penalty spot, all eyes turned in one direction.

Lionel Messi picks up the ball. With a country’s pressure on him, that ball could weigh as much as a sack of bricks for the average person. Instead, he hit it as many times as a basketball as he approached the penalty spot. He stared at the ball after he put it down, wiped the sweat from his forehead, then looked to his left bicep and adjusted his captain’s armband. A deep breath followed.

Not many people can carry out the ritual of placing such high expectations on their shoulders, but few understand this feeling as well as Messi.

The penalty itself went on as usual, an initial burst that led to a few slow and steady strides, eyes darting to the France captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris all the way. Then his chest and shoulders send Lloris in one direction, his feet in the other direction.

Twelve minutes later, Messi transitioned from defense to attack right inside his own half with a smooth, delicate touch befitting the bisht – often worn by Saudi royalty – he was gifted with after the game. He lured both French centre-backs Raphael Varane and Dayot Upamecano with the first touch, then passed the ball to Julian Alvarez on the right, who immediately made a pass to Alexis Mac Allister, whose huge space to enter because of Messi’s attention. His first ball went to Di Maria, who shot confidently and celebrated the goal in tears after missing the 2014 World Cup final through injury.

Di Maria missed the Round of 16 last tournament against Australia due to injury, coming on in the penalty shootout against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals, then missing out altogether in the semi-finals. In an explosive first half for Argentina in the World Cup final, he earned the penalty that led to his team’s first goal and has now doubled the lead. What a call from coach Lionel Scaloni to start Di Maria, who, like Messi, is dreaming of a World Cup title in what could be his final achievement on the international stage.

Messi seems destined for his crowning achievement, but no good movie is complete without a villain or a few twists and turns.

Even in a desperate situation, teams will rarely change before halftime. It felt bone-chilling, isolating when he was started before he even had a chance to regroup at the break, but France coach Didier Deschamps decided he couldn’t wait because of the emotion.

Seemingly angry with the way his side were exposed on the flanks, Deschamps pulled out star striker Olivier Giroud – who looked quite baffled seeing his time running out – and moved Kylian Mbappe into midfield. center after having the fewest touches on the field. player to that point. Dembele, who conceded a penalty, was also dropped and Marcus Thuram instead poked Mbappe on the left to fight back more. Randal Kolo Muani also comes on and will do the same on the opposite side.

Argentina remained in control for the first 20 minutes of the second half and a French team that had never been behind in the first half in six games were still without a shot on target.

Desperate times call for reckless measures and Deschamps has eliminated the only man in the whole tournament worthy of mention besides Mbappe and Messi. Antoine Griezmann’s tournament with cunning and bravery is over and before the flu-stricken Kingsley Coman, who, along with Mbappe, Muani and Thuram, has bet all his strength on speed and power to turn the tide.

Argentina remained in control, but as if bored with the script, the occasionally erratic veteran defender Nicolas Otamendi showed his age as new substitute Muani – 10 years younger – overtook him. to grab a hopeful ball in the box and earn a penalty in the 80th minute kick.

Now it’s Mbappe’s turn to show how strong his shoulders are.

Six of those famous blue and white jerseys surround him to remind him of what is at stake. They may also have been trying to get him to remember how he missed a penalty against Switzerland that knocked France out of the European Championship. That is no consequence.

Knowing that time is of the essence, Mbappe stood on tiptoe and looked towards the referee. Almost like a sprinter waiting for the ‘Go!’ sound The blue-eyed No 10 goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez, as soon as the whistle blew, buried the ball in the bottom left corner with such force that you could blink to catch it. Another sprint to recover the ball, and then another half-way to restart the game.

French President Emmanuel Macron stood up and clapped along with many others, his nation’s speed racer now seemingly infused with nitrous oxide.

Within a minute, the score was leveled. Messi, more than anyone, lost the ball in the middle of the pitch, and substitute Coman was brave enough to challenge him and win. Soon after, a dogfight from Adrien Rabiot – who was too ill to play the semi-final – reached Mbappe’s head, but all he wanted was to run back where no one could catch him. Thuram put the ball past a defender, Mbappe seemed to teleport and volley slid into the far corner to create one of the beautiful goals in the World Cup final.

If Messi can kill you with a thousand feints and a thousand more small steps that you barely hear but always retreat out of fear, then Mbappe stares at you like you’re the finish line and gallops. great as thunder. Pressure or fear of not being able to keep up.

Extra time beckoned and both teams, as fueled by Mbappe’s daring excellence, searched for a winner. Opportunities came at both ends, and then in the third minute of second extra time, it was the turn of one of Scaloni’s substitutes to score.

Forgotten man Lautaro Martinez came on for Julian Alvarez, and, after turning down an earlier opportunity, joined Messi and Enzo Fernandez – who won the tournament’s Young Player of the Year award – before when launching a shot that Lloris had to make a spectacular save. close range. As Messi has done time and time again for Argentina in times of need, he is ready to plunge into recovery and turn a “what if” moment into a “but of course” moment.

But there was one more “of course” moment in the game.

A handball from Gonzalo Montiel inside the box when trying to block Mbappe’s shot sent the French superstar into his first men’s World Cup hat-trick since Geoff Hurst in 1966 and is the second shot overall.

Again, he couldn’t wait for the referee to allow him to take the free-kick, again he looked down at Martinez and again he took it the same way and scored.

There have never been six goals shared equally in a men’s World Cup final before. And there were very close to one in seven.

In the final minute of extra time, substitute French defender Ibrahima Konate made a hopeful pass from midfield towards Argentina’s penalty area. Otamendi attempted a reverse bike stunt and missed and Muani was confronted by Martinez. He made a fated volley into the corner of the net, but Martinez’s left-footed cut saved the game.

It was a sign of things to come in the penalty kicks that would decide the game, as it was Martinez’s turn to be the dancing and dancing 6-foot-5 goal that became the hero. After Mbappe and Messi both scored as expected, France’s Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni missed shots while Paulo Dybala and Leandro Paredes both succeeded for Argentina before Gonzalo Montiel went down in history with the penalty kick. decision.

Messi waved to the crowd of nearly 90,000 fans who came to celebrate with Argentina. Mbappe stared into space in amazement. The skepticism was understandable, the game was probably the best that had just happened and no one watching could really understand what they had just witnessed. How could the man who scored a hat-trick in a World Cup final end up losing?

No legacy is tarnished on this day. The two main characters wrote the chapters in gold ink, but both teammates and coaches found their own moments to make it an all-time match.

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