|Argentina ended their 36-year hunt for the World Cup on a stunning night in Lusail — AFP/VNA Photo|
HÀ NỘI — If you are a football fan, you were not only lucky to witness this final, but also lucky to be in this moment of footballing history.
88,966 spectators at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday are even luckier, being present at arguably the greatest World Cup final ever.
Argentina was 2-0 ahead for 79 minutes until a magnificent Kylian Mbappé double in two minutes forced the game to extra time. La Albiceleste regained their lead in the 108th minute through Messi, but Mbappé equalised ten minutes later.
The game then went to a penalty shootout, which Argentina won 4-2.
Contrary to earlier reports about the health of French players, Didier Deschamps fielded his best eleven in the final. Lionel Scaloni's Argentina however, had to bench Marcos Acuna due to an aggravated injury in the warm-up.
The game started slowly in the first half, and most of the chances went to Argentina. La Albiceleste approached the match aggressively in attack, putting the French under pressure.
34-year-old Angel Di Maria, in his second World Cup Final, was one of the most instrumental players in the first half. The Juventus player's speed and finesse have opened up chances for his teammates.
One of which came in the 23rd minute, when Di Maria was brought down by Ousmane Dembele inside the box. Referee Szymon Marciniak quickly pointed to the spot despite the French protests.
Lionel Messi stepped up and easily beat Hugo Lloris with a cheeky penalty, giving Argentina an early lead.
The French's resistance was futile, and Argentina punished them thirteen minutes later on the counter. From Messi's genius play for Julian Alvarez, Alexis Mac Allister was found free in a 2-on-1 situation, where he passed for Di Maria to double Argentina's lead.
Didier Deschamps subbed off Dembele and Olivier Giroud for Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani just four minutes after Di Maria's goal. The changes did not work immediately, as France did not have a shooting attempt, even after half-time.
Only when Deschamps brought on Eduardo Camavinga and Kingsley Coman in the 71st minute did Emiliano Martinez have to go to work.
Kylian Mbappe registered France's first shot, and the first shot on goal in the whole match, just seconds after the double substitution.
With the mental deadlock broken, France pushed on with nothing to lose. As the clock ticked down and hope started to fade, a gift came for France, in the form of a penalty.
From a counter, substitute Kolo Muani went through on goal, forcing Nicolas Otamendi to foul him inside the box and Marciniak did not hesitate to give the penalty.
Another "M10", Kylian Mbappé, stepped up to the plate. Mbappé's last penalty at an international tournament sent France home, but this one reclaimed the hope for the French supporters at Lusail.
It seemed that Argentina have not learned from their past match against the Netherlands. Just one minute after Mbappé's goal, Lionel Messi, of all people, had his ball stolen by substitute Kingsley Coman, who found Marcus Thuram free in the centre.
The son of French legend Lillian Thuram then one-two with Mbappé, who finished the play with a vicious first-time volley inside the box that left Emi Martinez no chance.
"With enough Ifs you can put Paris in a bottle", so said a French proverb. Just ten minutes earlier no one thought that a disjointed and fatigued France could find a shot on goal, let alone score two.
And France could have won it in regulation time when Argentina mentally collapsed. Coman was again menacing, dribbling past three defenders before passing to Adrien Rabiot, whose shot was blocked by Emi Martinez in the 8th minute of extra time.
The game went to extra time, where Argentina's mindsets seemed to have resettled. Lautaro Martinez was gifted with two chances on goal for Argentina but clumsily missed both.
But Martinez did not have to rue his misses when he broke the offside trap in the 108th minute. Although his shot was blocked by Lloris, the rebound reached Lionel Messi who fired it home.
Argentina seemed to have won the Cup by then, but the joy in the stadium again switched to the French side, just two minutes from time.
From a Mbappé shot inside the box, Gonzalo Montiel blocked the shot with his arm. Even if the year was 1986, every referee in that position would have pointed to the spot, and so did Marciniak.
Mbappé took his second penalty on the night confidently (unlike a certain Englishman) and forced the game to go the distance in a penalty shootout.
In the shootout, Mbappé beat Emi Martinez for the third time, but his teammates Coman and Aurelien Tchouaméni could not overcome the Argentine keeper and the pressure. Gonzalo Montiel, whose handball brought the game to the shootout, went from zero to hero as his penalty sealed Argentina's victory.
The victory ended Argentina's 36-year wait for a World Cup, after the late Diego Maradona's famous victory in 1986.
Lionel Messi, in perhaps his final World Cup, ended with the final trophy he was missing, and perhaps ended the eternal "GOAT debate" between his rival Cristiano Ronaldo.
The world did not owe Messi and Argentina a World Cup trophy, they earned it for themselves, although fate did not make it easy.
A diminutive boy with a dream of playing the best football almost has to stop playing the game. He did not give up and kept going, inspiring friends, teammates and supporters along the way, before finally becoming the undisputed best in the world.
And how poetic it is for a final that summarises that boy's - Lionel Andrés Messi's career. — VNS