Argentina's forward #10 Lionel Messi celebrates with teammates after the Qatar 2022 World Cup final match at Lusail Stadium on Sunday night. Reuters / AFP
Mohammed Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter
Lionel Messi’s long-held dream of winning a World Cup was finally realized, when Argentina defeated France 4-2 via penalties in the final of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar to lift the trophy on Sunday.
The final lived up its billing as none of the teams were ready to give up. Argentina took a 2-0 lead before France rallied to equalize. In the extra time, Messi added one more to make it 3-2, but Mbappe scored another one through penalty to force the match into penalties.
Messi and Mbappe both found the net but France missed two penalties before Gonzalo Montiel tapped the decisive shot to put all the doubts to rest.
With the victory, Argentina also lifted the trophy for the third time and became the fourth most successful team in the history of the FIFA World Cup. Now they are behind Brazil, who have won six times; Germany and Italy, who have won four times each. Argentina had won the World Cup in 1978 and 1986. This was their sixth final. They had faced disappointment in 1930, 1990 and 2014.
Lionel Messi scores their first goal from the penalty spot past France's Hugo Lloris. Reuters
Earlier, Argentina survived a scare as a resurgent France showed a resilient performance to stage a miraculous comeback in the last ten minutes of the match after Argentina had taken a 2-0 lead. They equalized through a penalty in the 81st minute and added one more after one minute.
Nicolas Otamendi of Argentina pulled back his opponent, which gave France a penalty. Mbappe took the onus on his shoulder. He kept his cool and struck it past Argentina goalkeeper in the bottom right corner of the net to trim the lead to 2-1.
A charged-up France scored their second goal within one minute again. Mbappe latched on to a pass from Marcus Thuram and fired a shot into the back of the net to restore parity.
Argentina broke the deadlock as early as in the 23rd minute through a penalty. They were awarded the penalty for a dangerous tackle by Ousmane Dembele. He kicked the leg of an Argentine player instead of the ball.
Scaloni trusted Messi once again for the penalty. Under the immense pressure, Messi held his nerve and slotted the ball past his French counterpart Hugo Lloris into the bottom right corner of the net.
The penalty left France playing a catching-up game. Three minutes later, France got a free-kick when Cristian Gabriel Romero was trying snatch the ball but it clattered into the legs of the opponent. France were awarded a free kick.
France could not capitalize on the chance as Antonie Griezmann sent the ball into the penalty area and it was easily thwarted by one of the defenders.
They kept on trying hard to score an equalizer but failed to convert their chances into goals. Theo Hernandez also committed a foul which prompted the referee to give another free-kick to Argentina. Messi took the free kick but was not lucky enough to convert it into another goal.
After scoring the first goal, Argentina did not go into the defensive mode, but they kept on attacking. France also tried to score an equalizer to keep their hopes alive. They created many chances and came close to scoring but failed to convert their chances into goals.
Argentina could have made it 2-0 as Alexis Mac Allister received a deflected pass and smashed the ball at the goal post, but it went wide.
In a few minutes, Mac Allister gave a swift cross pass to Angel Di Maria, who made no mistake and slotted the ball into the left corner of the goal to make it 2-0.
While Messi chases sporting immortality, his Paris Saint-Germain teammate Mbappe, 23, is aiming to become the youngest player to win two World Cups since Pele achieved the feat at the age of 21.
France can also count on Antoine Griezmann, who has been highly influential from midfield in the run to the final.
The passionate presence of Argentina fans has been one of the features of this unusual World Cup, played for the first time outside of its traditional slot in the middle of year.
"We all believe this will be Messi's day," Ricardo Schwarz, a teacher from Cordoba, told AFP at the Souq Waqif in the centre of the Qatari capital.
Croatia beat Morocco 2-1 in the third-place playoff on Saturday, but the north Africans' coach Walid Regragui predicted a team from Africa will win the World Cup in the next "15-20 years".
The next World Cup in 2026 will be expanded to 48 teams and Africa will have nine guaranteed slots, up from five at present.
"With nine participants, we're going to learn. In 15, 20 years, I'm sure an African team will win the World Cup because we'll have learned," said Regragui.
In the capital Buenos Aires and throughout the country, millions took to the streets on Sunday to celebrate the penalty shoot-out victory over France in a remarkable final in Qatar.
"I love soccer, what I do. I enjoy being part of the national team, the group. I want to enjoy a couple of more matches being a world champion.” Messi has won the Ballon d'Or award for the best player in the world on seven occasions.
Legendary, greatest, immortal: News media across the planet ran out of superlatives after Lionel Messi led Argentina to victory in one of the most dramatic World Cup finals ever.
Salt Bae, whose real name is Nusret Gokce, was pictured holding and kissing the trophy after Argentina beat France. The Turkish chef was widely criticised for twice grabbing the arm of Messi, who tried to sidestep the unwanted attention.
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French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said on Sunday French athletes would be barred from wearing a hijab during the Paris Games to respect principles of secularism.
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