King Messi reigns supreme in Qatar, despite Prince Mbappé’s heroics

King Messi reigns supreme in Qatar, despite Prince Mbappé’s heroics
Lionel Messi of Argentina poses with his Golden Ball award at Lusail Stadium, Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo: Goran Stanzl / Pixsell / MB Media / Getty Images)

The Qatar World Cup final was a battle between the experience of Lionel Messi and the youthful hunger of Kylian Mbappé. The former emerged as victor, winning his first World Cup trophy in his final match for his country. Argentina beat France 4-2 on penalties after the game had ended 3-3 after extra time.

One final. Two outstanding players. Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé. One Argentinian, the other French. Each wearing the No 10 jersey and both from French club Paris Saint-Germain (which is owned by Qataris). Jousting it out for their respective countries to bring home football’s ultimate prize — the World Cup.

Mbappé won the battle, scoring the first hat-trick in a World Cup final since 1966 (when Englishman Geoff Hurst scored a treble in a game against West Germany).

It was Messi who won the war.

The match ended 3-3 after 120 minutes of play, before the French were beaten 4-2 on penalties.

qatar mbappe penalty

Kylian Mbappé of France celebrates scoring a penalty to make it 3-3 in extra time. (Photo: Chris Brunskill / Fantasista / Getty Images)

Mbappé’s treble threatened to see France overturn a two-goal deficit in a World Cup decider for the first time since West Germany did it against Hungary in the 1954 edition.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Kylian Mbappé: a player as talented as he is enigmatic

The 23-year-old (who turns 24 on Tuesday, 20 December) finished as the tournament’s top scorer, with eight goals. Mbappé took his World Cup tally to 12, just four short of Miroslav Klose, the tournament’s all-time leading goal scorer.

argentina messi

Lionel Messi of Argentina lifts the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 Winner’s Trophy. (Photo: Dan Mullan / Getty Images)

But Qatar 2022 was Messi’s World Cup. Before the final match, he confirmed that the clash against the defending world champions would be his final dance.

“I feel very happy, to be able to achieve this, to finish my World Cup journey by playing my last game in a final,” Messi told Argentinian sports outlet Diario Deportivo Ole. “It’s many years for the next one and I don’t think I’ll be able to do it. And to finish like this, it’s the best,” Al Jazeera quoted Messi as saying before the game.

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Lionel Messi of Argentina scores during the penalty shootout. (Photo: Sebastian Frej / MB Media / Getty Images)

Messi’s brace was enough to see Argentina add the title of world champions to their status as current kings of South America.

It is the first time since 1986 that Argentina has triumphed in a World Cup final, and the third time overall. More significantly, it was Messi’s maiden World Cup trophy — firmly etching his name in the annals of global sports history.

The win also erased Argentina’s heartbreak of Brazil 2014, when Germany’s Mario Götze broke the collective heart of the South American nation. 

Messi was morose when he accepted the award as that tournament’s best player. Eight years later, in Qatar, he received the same award. Knowing that his Golden Ball would be in tandem with a gold medal this time, he couldn’t help but crack a wry smile.

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Kylian Mbappé of France, holding his Golden Boot trophy, walks past the Fifa World Cup trophy after losing to Argentina in the final. (Photo: Matthew Ashton / AMA / Getty Images)

Mbappé cut a capitulated figure when he went to receive his Golden Boot award, but the youngster can take consolation from the fact that he already has a World Cup gold medal in his cabinet from France’s success over Croatia in Russia in 2018.

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Sequence of play

Messi and his compatriots were in menacing form in the opening stanza. They raced to a 2-0 lead in the 36th minute, with Ángel di María winning a penalty (which Messi comfortably converted). Then Di María himself finished off a scintillating team move nine minutes from the halfway mark.

France were flailing and coach Didier Deschamps was decisive in his efforts to drag his side back into the game. A few minutes before halftime, the coach yanked off two key players for his side at this tournament — Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembélé. They were replaced by Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani. 

A game of two halves

Football can be a game of two halves. This was the case at the Lusail stadium. In the second stanza, it was the France-and-Mbappé show, with the subs also playing their part.

After having knocked at the Argentinian door for a while, Les Bleus finally found some joy with a Mbappé penalty 10 minutes from full time. The French star would return a minute later, this time stroking home a sumptuous volley to level matters and drag the match to extra time.  

Then, in extra time, Messi guided the ball past a scrambling French defence to get the scoreline to 3-2. But in the second period of additional time, France won another penalty. Messi’s PSG teammate duly stepped up to level matters once more. Three-all.

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Emiliano Martinez of Argentina celebrates after saving a goal during the penalty shootout against France. (Photo: Marc Atkins / Getty Images)

Despite the momentum being with the Europeans, Argentina held on for a nail-biting penalty shootout victory, cementing Messi’s legacy as one of the best players to ever set foot on a soccer pitch.

Polarising showpiece

Despite it being one of the most iconic happenings in the world, the Qatar World Cup was shrouded in indifference and a passionless run-in.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Qatar World Cup — the most polarising football showpiece to date?

There were a few factors that contributed to this listlessness, one being the controversial reputation of the host nation when it comes to human rights issues.

Migrant workers were employed to build the infrastructure for the monthlong quadrennial showpiece. The workers reportedly faced poor and dangerous working conditions, which were made more perilous by the Arab country’s unforgiving heat.

It is this very heat that led to Fifa, the global football custodian, moving the tournament from the traditional window of June/July to November/December, which is Qatar’s cooler season.

Important players for their nations, such as France’s Karim Benzema and Portugal’s Diogo Jota, suffered injuries in the build-up to the tournament. This added to the apprehension around a mid-season World Cup.

Nevertheless, the Qataris hosted an exciting tournament, which produced some surprise results along the way. These include Saudi Arabia beating Argentina, plus Morocco becoming the first African nation to make it to the World Cup semifinals.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Morocco’s Qatar World Cup heroics the result of years of effort — on and off the pitch

Qatar will forever be remembered as being one of the final chapters in Messi’s glorious career. That’s far from being a horrendous legacy for the tournament. DM


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