Lionel Messi and Argentina reach the promised land as Kylian Mbappe-led France fall short: Five Talking Points

Lionel Messi and Argentina lifted the World Cup in a dramatic final after Kylian Mbappe and France threatened to spoil the party.

And…breathe. After 64 matches over a hectic month, the FIFA World Cup 2022 has drawn to a close, with Argentina and Lionel Messi emerging triumphant after a 4-2 win on penalties over reigning world champions France after a 3-3 thriller across 120 minutes.

La Albiceleste added a third World Cup to their cabinet after a 36-year long wait following a mind-boggling tournament that has at times defied logic, rewritten history, and will ultimately be remembered as one of the greatest of all time. Truly, madly, deeply, we will miss this World Cup like no other.

Characterised by unpredictability, drama, and shock, Qatar 2022 was christened by a fitting finale at the fitting Lusail Stadium, one which saw twelve remarkable net bulgers feature enroute to sending the silverware to Argentina.

It was the latest and final chapter in a competition that kept audiences worldwide glued to their screens by tossing out the scripts, turfing the usual powerhouses, and embracing a level of theatre unparalleled in world sport.

Argentina and France played out a truly incredible and exhilarating climax at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Argentina appeared destined to win after Lionel Messi scored twice, only for Kylian Mbappe to produce a stunning hat-trick to get France back into the game.

In the most theatrical way possible, it reached the point of going to a penalty shoot-out. It was Argentina who come out on top in the shoot-out, 4-2, to lift the biggest prize at the expense of France. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we look at the talking points from a momentous game at Lusail Stadium.

A clash for the ages

This match pitted the defending champions up against a never say die unit and from the word go, threw up the type of incredible spectacle that has stood this tournament apart from any other.

One by one, the favourites fell, as Germany, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, and Brazil, all failed to make good on their pre-tournament hype. And then there were two fancied competitors who went about their business in a professional and pragmatic fashion. Argentina, for one, had to even bounce back from an opening setback after the infamous 2-1 giant-killing defeat against Saudi Arabia, which left them in a “no margin for error” situation.

As it turns out, it was a wild final, an unforgettable final. It was probably the best World Cup final of all-time — a match packed full of so many notable incidents, so much tension, such dramatic momentum shifts, and such joy, with all storylines popping into mind becoming a reality the very next second. Hitman Mbappe was eagerly determined to dethrone King Messi; Montiel went from zero to hero. It was a rollercoaster ride in every sense of the word.

The game did not appear to be destined to be a classic at first. For the majority of the match, it looked as if the occasion would just serve as a crown jewel for Messi, as Argentina and their talisman completely outplayed France. Argentina’s energy, passion, and free-flowing football overwhelmed France in the first half.

France did not even have a single touch in the Argentina box. Meanwhile, La Albiceleste were unstoppable. Every lost ball was pounced on by their midfielders. Alexis Mac Allister and Rodrigo De Paul were rampant and tenacious. Messi had hinted that this could be his last dance at the World Cup. And he rose to the occasion, scoring a brilliant penalty to break the deadlock.

France had hoped to become the first team in 60 years to defend the title, but they were not up for it and were second best for long stretches, and it came as no surprise when Argentina took a 2-0 lead into the break.

Angel Di Maria was restored on the left-flank for this final and repaid manager Lionel Scaloni’s trust with a lively performance. The veteran wide man won the penalty for the opening goal before capping off a beautiful team move to make it 2-0. He jinked and feinted past the French defenders and was a total menace.

Argentina seemed to contain France in the second half, and there was some time wasting. But as the saying goes, anything that could have gone wrong did go wrong for Argentina. Substitute Randal Kolo Muani began to have an impact on the game, pressing defenders with a zeal that his teammates had previously lacked. It was his meandering run that drew a foul from Otamendi in the 79th minute and a penalty kick for France.

The match had been framed as a potential transferring of the mantle between Messi and his Paris-Saint Germain teammate Kylian Mbappe. But the 23-year-oled remained anonymous for much of the encounter until a flurry of brilliance flipped the game upside down after 90 seconds.

Mbappe converted an 80th-minute penalty before exchanging a lovely one-two with Thuram and lashing home the sweetest volley past Emiliano Martinez just seconds later. 2–2. Argentina appeared shell-shocked, and France suddenly had all the momentum and looked likelier team to win the game.

Argentina weathered the storm for eight long minutes of stoppage time, with Martinez producing a crucial save along the way, and forced 30 minutes of extra-time in which substitutes Lautaro Martinez and Randal Kolo Muani twice went close.

Messi looked to have found the match-winning euphoria goal, though, bundling home after Hugo Lloris saved from Lautaro Martinez to send the Argentina supporters into delirium. But Mbappe steered France back into the game again with his mercurial talent, winning and converting his second spot-kick after a Gonzalo Montiel handball to complete his hat-trick.

120 outrageous, albeit on-trend, minutes were unable to separate these two sides. It all came down to penalties, and Argentina won, with Montiel scoring the deciding penalty. The frantic end-to-end affair may go down as the greatest men’s World Cup game of all-time.

In the end, Messi got his fairytale ending. It is the type of story you would see in a Tom Cruise blockbuster thriller movie, with the hero triumphing at the last possible second to amaze the audience and leave their opponents dumbfounded.

Messi: The Ultimate GOAT

When Gonzalo Montiel’s strike nestled into the net, Lionel Messi sank to his knees in the centre circle, overcome by boundless emotion and joy, encircled by his teammates, or, say, a band of brothers – or devotees, in Rodrigo De Paul’s case. It was as if the football gods were smiling from above as their favourite son, who started his journey in the streets of Rosario as a kid with growth hormone deficiency, had now finally realised his destiny.

Messi or Ronaldo? Messi or Maradona? These are debates the football world have beaten into the ground for the last decade and a half. But Messi cares little; he has now established his legacy in Qatar with one of the most legendary performances we have ever witnessed.

Just when it looked as if the greatest football player of his generation would ride off into the sunset without claiming the ultimate prize in the sport, all the pieces of the jigsaw merged together like the masterpiece work of a celestial scriptwriter.

Lionel Messi never needed to win the World Cup to be considered the GOAT in many football purists’ opinions. But the fact that he did, and did so as the focal point at such a late stage in his career, settles the debate once and for all.

No one ever questioned Messi’s CV more than his international exploits. There have always been those allegations that he had never done it for Argentina. Arguments over arguments stated that he could only do it at Barcelona alongside world-class players and was second only to Maradona for his country.

In the last 18 months, he has now won the Copa America and the World Cup and has been the best player in both tournaments. Both triumphs debunk any doubts about his ability to lead a team to glory and deliver the goods when it matters the most.

Not only that, but his record in the World Cup knockout stages has been pointed out time and again. But Messi became the first player in World Cup history to score in every round of the same tournament. Furthermore, he was named man of the match in every game Argentina played in the knockout stage, including the final against France.

The way he has almost transformed his personality throughout this period is even more remarkable. The hunger and determination to finally earn the elusive prize changed a typically reserved, zen-like, shy superstar into one prepared to go to any length to ensure the mission is accomplished. That is the definition of a great athlete.

Some of his dazzling displays at this World Cup just do not make any sense. Messi, at the age of 35, has done what few would have expected of him anymore. He had lost a yard of pace and was always surrounded by multiple players as soon as he received the ball. For that very reason, he operates like a playmaker in most of his PSG games.

But, majestically, he bamboozled an athletic Josko Gvardiol with his buzzing feet before putting it on a plate for Julian Alvarez in the semi-final. Against France, only God knows after 107 minutes of grueling, intense football whether he had the legs to still take part in a rapid counter-attack and get on the end of things. Messi was the coolest head inside the stadium for both of his superb penalties on the day as well.

Messi’s brilliance has been so ingrained in our view of the contemporary game that Pep Guardiola once warned us, “Always watch Messi,” because one day we won’t be able to. The sight of him lifting the trophy was what so many fans — and not just those from Argentina — had craved for so long. That perennial dream has now been realised.

Mbappe worth his weight in gold

Much of the pre-game hype was on Argentina’s seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi and France’s 23-year-old Kylian Mbappe. The game was billed as an epic battle between the two PSG teammates, and they certainly did not disappoint.

Rarely in football do so main storylines actually come together. While Messi emerged as the eventual winner, it was Mbappe who single-handedly threatened to derail his PSG teammate’s fairytale and made Messi work to achieve his destiny.

Messi and co. looked set to run away with the game. However, France’s own No. 10 had other ideas. It took an atrocious France 70 minutes to register their first shot on target in the game, with Mbappe, who barely had a sniff all game long, simply flying straight past Argentina’s midfield and putting an optimistic effort on goal.

But that single tenacious moment was enough for the momentum to swing in France’s favour. And ten minutes later, Mbappe converted a penalty and equalised with a breathtaking side volley that took an otherworldly twist of the body.

Even when Messi looked to have won the game in extra time, Mbappe stubbornly refused to give up, showing no mercy for the fairytale premise by winning and converting yet another spot-kick, rescuing France for a second time, and becoming the first player to score a hat-trick in a men’s World Cup final since Geoff Hurst in 1966. He also earned the Golden Boot in the process.

Mbappe did not even flinch in the shootout, proving why he seems poised to smash several World Cup records. The Frenchman became the youngest player in history to score ten World Cup goals and has now scored more goals in World Cup finals (4) than anyone else in history. At 23 years of age, he is already a legend on the biggest stage. And the truly exciting thing for the French faithful is that his best is yet to come.

Messi holds the undoubted GOAT title after completing his trophy cabinet, but for how long? That may depend on Mbappe’s plans.

What went wrong for France in the first half and Didier Deschamps’s game-changing tactical substitutions

There is no hiding from the fact that France’s first-half performance was a complete catastrophe. Didier Deschamps suggested after the game that France had suffered the “physical or psychological impact” of an illness-plagued lead-up to their World Cup final defeat to Argentina. And it was evident.

Les Bleus were overrun in the middle of the park, sloppy in possession, not pressing at all, or winning second-balls, and did not have a single shot in the opening 45 minutes, failing to produce even a single good spell of possession that put any pressure to Argentina’s backline. It would not be an exaggeration to state they were dead as a doornail.

The key French players were nowhere to be found. Antoine Griezmann was suffocated by the outstanding and energetic Argentine midfield, which totally cut off the supply chain for counter-attacks; Mbappe barely had a sniff and leaving acres of space behind him to be exploited; Olivier Giroud was marshalled out of the game and did not have any service.

Angel Di Maria was running riot on the left-hand side, charging Jules Kounde time and again. The double-pivot of Adrien Rabiot and Aurelien Tchouameni was stretched too much to cover for Ousmane Dembele and Mbappe, with the former clearly not at the races on the night. It was a total mess, to say the least.

France had barely put up a fight, and Deschamps could not stand it any longer. And half-time had not yet arrived when the fourth official lifted his electronic board in the 40th minute to indicate two bold substitutions. Deschamps replaced Giroud and Dembele, neither of whom had provided much of an offensive threat, with the younger, unpredictable forwards Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani.

Social media was exploding on the move. What on earth was Deschamps thinking? This was a massive bet — either the play of a man who had thrown the last roll of the dice away or of a genius who had an idea of what was happening in the game.

It turned out to be the latter. Mbappe shifted to a central role, with Thuram taking his role on the left flank and Kolo Muani on the opposite side. It initially did not work well, but as the game went on, Mbappe started to make an impression, and Argentina began to grow weary. France were steadily causing some real problems for the Argentine backline. And in the 64th minute, Scaloni took Di Maria off and replaced him with Marcos Acuna.

But it proved to be a costly mistake. And with France stepping up the pressure, Deschamps decided to throw the kitchen sink at the opposition with another double change. In came Kingsley Coman for Griezmann, and Eduardo Camavinga for Theo Hernandez.

All four replacements had an impact: Kolo Muani got tripped by defender Nicolas Otamendi to secure France’s first penalty, and Mbappe buried the equaliser shortly after. 90 seconds or so later, Coman won the ball from Messi and laid it to Mbappe, who exchanged quick passes with Marcus Thuram before smashing a stunning volley into the bottom corner past Emiliano Martinez to level things up.

France became a totally unplayable and unstoppable force with Thuram and Kolo Muani piling on the pressure with their sheer physicality and dribbling skills. Coman tormented the previously untroubled Argentine backline after coming on, while Youssouf Fofana also brought more power to midfield in extra time and helped wrestle back control of the midfield alongside Tchouameni.

One criticism that could be levelled at Deschamps is that it would have been better to start the game with these young guns and bring in experienced heads later on during the penalty shoot-out. But we are saying that in hindsight. And on another day, Kolo Muani’s well-taken effort against Martinez in the last minute of extra time would have secured the victory.

At the other end, Argentina substitute Lautaro Martnez missed a clear header, and Mbappe beat two players on another spectacular surge but couldn’t get past the third. Never before has so much been squeezed into an extra-time climax. And as England found out in UEFA Euro 2020, the youngsters have a tendency to crack up in high-pressure moments, let alone the penalty shootout of a World Cup final.

While the fightback was valiant and deserves praise, going into overdrive is not ideal for a pragmatic Deschamps, whose side lost their identity of being a well-balanced outfit, one that often relied on the counterattack and willfully chose not to maximise their overflowing talent. Two-nil win case closed; let’s go home.

They thrive on sparks, experience, composure, moments, and sometimes even opponents defeating themselves. What often gets forgotten is that France can play football thanks to the reservoir of talent produced in the farms of Rennes, Lyon, Lille, and Monaco.

The question is whether Deschamps should have sent his team out with greater authority. Throughout the competition, France seemed to be getting the job done. They rode their luck to escape with one-goal leads over England and Morocco. In the end, their good fortune ran out. It was their punishment for delaying too long in allowing their potential young stars to shine. But Deschamps did try to make amends with clever changes. Alas, it was not to be for him and France.

Emiliano Martinez: Custodian of Argentina’s World Cup Dream

Emiliano Martinez is an absolute box office goalkeeper, probably the craziest shot-stopper since the great Colombian Rene Higuita. He thrives in high-pressure situations, but there is a method to his madness.

The cocky, confident goalkeeper does not shy away from being in the ear of the opposition. He did not just frighten and get into the heads of Kingsley Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni in the shootout; he was the reason the game got to penalties in the first place, after making the finest stop you’ll ever see with an extended leg on Randal Kolo Muani’s low effort right at the death of extra time.

The save kept Argentina’s dreams of winning the World Cup alive. And this is not the first time the charismatic goalkeeper has saved the day for La Albiceleste. Against the Netherlands, he absolutely freaked out the spot-kick takers — even a cool man like Virgil Van Dijk fell for his antics.

Martinez is well-known for his ability to deny his opponents in shootouts at both the club and international levels. He was absolutely integral to Argentina’s success at the 2021 Copa America. He made three saves in the semi-final shootout against Colombia, prompting Messi to call him a phenomenon.

So, it is no wonder that Szymon Marciniak, the referee, had to physically keep him from verbally assaulting France’s penalty taker, Kolo Muani. Martinez was booked – little did he care about that – and Kolo Muani smashed home.

However, the stage was set for substitute Gonzalo Montiel to win it and crown Argentina and Messi the world champions. Martinez’s sensational form for his country and exuberating energy personifies the spirit of self-sacrifice that has transformed Argentina’s fortunes over the past four years.

Martinez may not be that endearing. His sportsmanship during the shootout, as well as his subsequent taunting of Mbappe, were both unethical and unwarranted. But everything was for a cause much bigger than just mocking. This is Messi’s dream, but it is also Martinez’s. Or, for that matter, all of Argentina.

It was fitting, then, to see him get an individual award (Golden Glove) for his contribution to a team victory. He will be remembered as the man who handed Argentina their third world title in a penalty shootout. He is notorious for emerging as the hero in such situations. But despite everything, Martinez is a national hero.

Leave Comment


Welcome Back!

Login to your account below

Retrieve your password

Please enter your username or email address to reset your password.