Lionel Messi enjoyed what will undoubtedly go down as the greatest moment of his glittering career as the Argentina star helped his country beat France on penalties despite a hat-trick from Kylian Mbappe that saw the 2022 World Cup final in Qatar end as a 3-3 thriller.
La Albiceleste led 2-0 and then 3-2 in extra time, but were pegged back before Gonzalo Montiel secured a 4-2 success in the shoot-out after Kingsley Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni failed from the spot for Les Bleus.
Messi, 35, had suggested this showdown for the trophy would be his World Cup swansong, and he fittingly rose to the occasion when he converted a clinical penalty on 23 minutes to open the scoring. It saw him become the first man ever to score in every round of a single World Cup.
France had been aiming to become the first team in 60 years to retain the trophy, but they were second best for long spells and it was no surprise when Argentina claimed a 2-0 advantage heading into the interval.
Angel Di Maria was recalled to the side for this final and repaid manager Lionel Scaloni’s decision with a vibrant display, earning the penalty for the opener before finishing off a flowing team move on 36 minutes.
The match had been billed as a potential passing of the torch between Messi and his Paris-Saint Germain team-mate Kylian Mbappe, but the Frenchman was peripheral for much of the contest until a blur of brilliance turned the game on its head inside 90 seconds.
Mbappe converted an 80th-minute penalty before exchanging a lovely one-two and volleying home a dramatic equaliser just seconds later.
Messi then turned the game again in extra time when he tucked in a rebound before Mbappe kept his nerve from the spot three minutes from the end to set up a penalty shoot-out by becoming only the second man in history to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final.
It would ultimately end in despair for the French, though, as Argentina held their nerve from the spot to win their third World title and become the second side to triumph after losing their opening game.
The fairytale finale for Messi that (almost) everyone wanted. The seven-time Ballon d’Or recipient has quite literally won it all, but his previous failure to lift the biggest team prize in football was the glaring omission on his CV and the stick by which his detractors in the GOAT debate used to beat him with. That is now all over as he put a rubber-stamp on a World Cup where he led his team with a fiery spirit and some mesmerising performances.
In normal circumstances, his brace would have made all of the headlines, but the obvious successor to his crown as the best of his generation, Mbappe, stole the show with a late charge and a hat-trick that saw him steal the Golden Boot from the Argentine’s clutches with his haul of eight in the tournament.
The final itself will be remembered as a classic and arguably the greatest of all-time with the big build-up for Messi versus Mbappe paying off in spectacular style.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Kylian Mbappe (France). It will no doubt be regarded as Messi’s tournament, and perhaps his final, but the sudden transformation of Mbappe from subdued, sulking superstar into the magical menace that almost single-handedly dragged France to within a whisker of retaining their crown on around 75 minutes, was quite incredible. The France forward literally has the world at his feet and is so unfortunate to net a hat-trick and still end up as a runner-up.
ARGENTINA: Martinez 8, Molina 6, Otamendi 6, Romero 7, Tagliafico 7, De Paul 7, Fernandez 7, Mac Allister 8, Di Maria 8, Alvarez 8, Messi 8. Subs: Acuna 6, Montiel 7, Paredes 7, Lautaro Martinez 7, Pezzella n/a, Dybala n/a.
FRANCE: Lloris 6, Kounde 6, Varane 6, Upamecano 6, Hernandez 6, Tchouameni 6, Rabiot 6, Griezmann 5, Dembele 5, Mbappe 9, Giroud 5. Subs: Kolo Muani 8, Thuram 8, Camavinga 7, Coman 7, Fofana 6, Konate 6, Disasi n/a.
23’ – GOAL! – Argentina 1-0 France. Messi steps up and coolly sends Lloris the wrong way with a clinical spot kick to the right corner.
36’ – GOAL! – Argentina 2-0 France. Di Maria arrives on cue to tuck home Mac Allister’s low ball after Messi and Alvarez had set Argentina away down the right.
59’ – ARGENTINA CHANCE! Alvarez takes a pass on the burst but can’t squeeze a low shot past Lloris at the near post from a narrow angle on the left.
80’ – GOAL! – Argentina 2-1 France. Mbappe gives Les Bleus hope as he squeezes his low penalty beyond the hands of Martinez. The spot kick was awarded after Otamendi pulled back Muani.
81’ – GOAL! – Argentina 2-2 France. Mbappe turns the match on its head as he levels matters when he exchanges a brilliant one-two before volleying a low shot into the far corner.
109’ – GOAL! – Argentina 3-2 France. Messi tucks in the rebound after Lloris parries a fizzing strike from Martinez. France call for offside but Martinez held his run well in the slick build up.
117’ – GOAL! – Argentina 3-3 France. Hat-trick! Mbappe becomes only the second man to ever score a treble in a World Cup final as he lashes another penalty into the corner.
SHOOTOUT – PENALTY SAVED! Coman sees his low kick well saved by Martinez.
SHOOTOUT – PENALTY MISSED! Aurelien Tchouameni drags his spot kick wide amidst mind games from Martinez.
SHOOTOUT – PENALTY SCORED! Gonzalo Montiel sends the keeper the wrong way ARGENTINA WIN 4-2 ON PENS AND ARE THE WORLD CHAMPIONS!!!