Lionel Messi won the World Cup for Argentina yesterday. He scored twice against France in one of the all-time great finals before the South Americans held their nerve to win in a penalty shootout in Qatar.
Messi finally crowned his record-breaking career by winning football’s biggest prize with a performance that will go down in World Cup history, scoring a first-half penalty and netting again in the extra time.
France had fought back from 2-0 down as Kylian Mbappe scored twice to equalise and force extra time in a pulsating match.
Messi seemed to have decided the match in extra time with his second goal of the game before Mbappe completed only the second World Cup final hat-trick to bring the score to 3-3 and force penalties.
Gonzalo Montiel swept home the decisive penalty to win the shootout 4-2 for Argentina – but this was Messi’s moment.
He had tasted bitter defeat in the 2014 final against Germany but in his fifth and final World Cup, the 35-year-old finally emulated Argentina idol Diego Maradona by leading his nation to World Cup glory for the first time since Maradona’s victory in Mexico City in 1986.
Tens of thousands of blue and white-shirted Argentina fans rose to salute Messi as he told them “we’re champions of the world!” on the stadium microphone.
Argentina dominated the first half of the match as Messi scored a 23rd minute penalty and was part of a superb move that led to Angel Di Maria sweeping home Argentina’s second goal.
They appeared to be cruising to a straightforward victory as France, who had battled a virus in their camp in the past few days, were completely overrun.
But the defending champions finally dragged themselves back into the game in the second half as Randal Kolo Muani was dragged down by Nicolas Otamendi in the penalty area and Mbappe converted from the spot with only 10 minutes left.
Just a minute later, Mbappe scored a superb volley to bring France level.
In extra time, Messi forced a diving save from French keeper Hugo Lloris in the final minutes and Lautaro Martinez could have put Argentina ahead but Dayot Upamecano superbly intervened to snuff out the danger.
Messi knocked in the rebound from Martinez’s saved shot in the 108th minute to give Argentina the lead once again.
But when Mbappe’s shot hit Gonzalo Montiel’s outstretched arm, the referee pointed to the penalty spot to the Argentinians’ disgust and Mbappe stroked it home to become the first player to score a World Cup hat-trick since England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966.
A superb match went to penalties and Montiel scored the decisive spot kick to win the shootout 4-2.
Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez said the victory was “destiny”.
Martinez, 30, who saved from Kingsley Coman in the shootout, said: “It was a very complicated match, they came back to equalise in the game but it was our destiny to suffer.
”All that I have dreamed of has been achieved. I have no words for it. I was calm during the penalty shoot-out, and everything went as we wanted.