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World Cup final lives up to hype as Argentina claims the crown

Josh Kempton

Argentina survived a furious French comeback to win the FIFA World Cup, drawing 3-3 before winning 4-2 on penalties against France in the final at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar.

In front of a viewing audience of more than one and a half billion people, La Albiceleste’s talisman Lionel Messi opened the scoring in the 23rd minute, notching his 6th goal of the tournament from the penalty spot after Ousmane Dembélé was fouled by Ángel di María.

One of the game’s best ever players was again heavily involved as the advantage was doubled in the 36th minute, with his clever flick kick-starting a scintillating counter-attack that resulted in Alexis Mac Allister teeing up di María for a tap-in.

France coach Didier Deschamps wasn’t going to go down wondering, substituting off Dembele and the country’s all-time leading goal-scorer Olivier Giroud in the 40th minute, bringing on Randal Kolo Muani and Marcus Thuram, who made big impacts off the bench in the semi-final win over Morocco.

Le Blues looked well off the pace for much of the game, not mustering a shot on Emi Martínez’s goal until deep into the second half, with the Argentine midfield of Mac Allister, Rodrigo De Paul, and Enzo Fernández defensively dominant.

The late twist in the tale started with young star Kylian Mbappe stepping up to convert a spot kick won by Kolo Muani in the 80th minute, with Nicolás Otamendi the guilty party, pulling the striker down as he made a darting run in behind.

The 2018 winners then squared the game just 97 seconds after the restart, with Mbappe playing a one-two with Thuram and coolly slotting past Martínez in the 82nd minute.

After neither side could find a winner in regular time, Messi was not to be denied in the extra half-hour, tucking home a rebound in the 108th minute after French keeper Hugo Lloris could only parry a powerful Lautaro Martinez shot straight to his feet.

The Argentine defence again couldn’t quite hold on, with a controversial penalty call going against Gonzalo Montiel for a handball, allowing Mbappe to complete the second ever World Cup final hat-trick from the spot in the 118th minute.

For just the third time ever, the tournament was decided on penalties; Messi and Mbappe stepped up first and converted before Kingsley Coman had his effort saved by Martinez and Aurélien Tchouaméni blazed well wide, offering Montiel to slot the decisive finish, which he dutifully accepted to send a majority blue-and-white crowd into hysterics.

Messi claimed the Golden Ball awarded to the tournament’s best player, breaking through to win his first World Cup after five attempts on the night when he made his 26th appearance on football’s biggest stage, eclipsing the record for the most appearances by a male player at the World Cup previously held by Germany’s Lothar Matthaüs.

Mbappe’s eight goals for the tournament did ensure he claimed the Golden Boot as a consolation prize, while Fernández won the Young Player of the Tournament award and Martínez took the Golden Glove on the back of three clean sheets.

Argentina will bring the trophy home for the first time since 1986, also reclaiming the Cup for South America after four European wins in a row.

Although France fell agonisingly short in their bid to become the first country since Brazil in 1962 to win back-to-back World Cups, making the final was a testament to their depth, with stars Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Karim Benzema, and Christopher Nkunku all unable to take part in the tournament due to injury.

IMAGE: Getty Images

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