IT is only fitting that such an FIFA World Cup rich in unexpected results should be capped by one of the most bizarre and outstanding finals in the 92-year history of the tournament.
The Qatar World Cup will long be remembered and talked about for its series of shock results. But it’ll be hard to top a final, held on Qatar’s national day, that saw the two number 10s in scoring form and the balance of the game shift in dramatic fashion.
Kylian Mbappe scored a hat-trick, to win the Golden Boot, but still wound up on the losing team.
In a series of sensational twists and turns, the script — easily the stuff of fiction — worked out to the desired conclusion. Lionel Messi, in what is largely expected to be his final World Cup, wound up scoring twice, being voted the player of the tournament and eventually lifting the trophy.
But it was the final itself that will long be remembered, and a perfect ending to a splendid tournament.
For 80 minutes, Messi and his Argentina team were cruising. The star of the night had scored one and set up another for Angel Di Maria to score in a wonderful, sweeping team goal. France had not shown up yet. Anonymous and outplayed by a lively South American side, were the French still plagued by the mystery virus?
But just when all seemed lost, out of the shadows of anonymity, Mbappe stepped up, scoring a penalty and a delightful volley within two minutes to draw things level and send a topsy-turvy game into extra time.
A scrappy goal by Messi saw them edge ahead again, but another penalty — sealing Mbappe’s hat-trick — sent the game into penalties.
Both number 10s stepped up and scored. And then the French recovery stuttered as two penalties failed to hit the mark, while Argentina held their nerve and accomplished the needful.
France, the reigning champions — they held on to it for an extra six months due to the tournament’s winter kick off — can feel aggrieved at how they lost it eventually, but, in reality, if it wasn’t for Mbappe’s solo efforts, this would have been an embarrassing game for them. Big names failed to impress as France was totally dominated for much of the game in normal time.
Argentina had an answer to every feeble attempt from the French side, but the Mbappe factor was unexpected, and welcomed by the fans, the neutrals and the game.
Never Give Up
For both teams, the final was a fine example of holding your nerve and not buckling under pressure, digging deep and drawing upon reserves after a trying month of fixtures.
It was nerve-wracking stuff as France eventually shook off their stupor and managed to pull a game-saving couple of goals, and Argentina, on the verge of winning it in normal time, found itself being dragged into extra time, and beyond. A physically and emotionally draining match, it’s one a beaming Messi will cherish as his possible swansong, and a sullen Mbappe with his golden boot and consoled by President Emmanuel Macron after the game, would have learnt life-changing lessons from.
It’ll be hard to top this tournament in four years when a combination of USA, Mexico and Canada host the 2026 World Cup.