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The greatest final for the greatest ever. The best finish for the finest of all footballers.
The debate may forever rage on if Lionel Messi is in fact the best of all time. This was more evidence for those who believe he is, but there can be no doubt that this was a World Cup final which will forever be remembered.
Messi lifted the trophy at last in his final game in this competition after the most incredible decider this tournament has ever witnessed as Argentina finally saw off France on penalties.
READ MORE: Lionel Messi hoisted above crowds and carried and recreates Diego Maradona's iconic photo
Kylian Mbappe didn’t deserve to lose this game. Nobody should really lose when you score a hat-trick in the final. He’s only the second man to ever do it after Geoff Hurst in 1966.
This just had to be Messi’s moment, though. Sport doesn’t always have the perfect finale.
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It’s not choreographed, it doesn’t have to finish the way we want it to, but what played out here at the Lusail Stadium was so good it had to be fiction.
There will never be another game played on this pitch as it will be turned into something else. Nothing would have ever topped it anyways.
It began with Messi’s penalty after Angel Di Maria was tripped by Ousmane Dembele, then the extraordinary team goal which was finished by Di Maria.
That included a quite sensational no-look pass from Messi, a superb one-touch ball from Julian Alvarez to Alexis Mac Allister and then the most generous of assists from the brilliant Brighton man. It looked like it might be all too easy.
But then there was the French fight back when they looked like the virus which ripped through their squad this week had caused them to choke on the big stage defending their crown.
It was a chance that flew over the bar in the 71st minute that suggested Mbappe was about to arrive, but it came when Nicolas Otamendi’s rash tackle on Randal Kolo Muani in the area which turned the game.
Mbappe slotted that home in the 79th minute and just 97 seconds later he scored one of the great World Cup goals. A ball from Adrien Rabiot was nodded down by the PSG star to Marcus Thuram, who played a superb ball over the top for Mbappe to fire into the bottom corner.
The gasps in the stands was a sound which will live long in the memory. France could touch back-to-back World Cups again. The drama had only just begun.
It felt like it could be the greatest rope-a-dope since the Rumble in the Jungle. This was the definitive decider in the desert.
Didier Deschamps had got his substitutes right. Taking off Olivier Giroud before half-time looked to have seriously backfired but once Mbappe was ignited it all came together.
The later introduction of Eduardo Camavinga was another great move. France had seemingly broken Argentina’s spirit. But the magic of Messi ensured the chance of history wouldn’t go away. Hugo Lloris denied him a wonderful winner in stoppage time.
He probably couldn’t believe his luck when Lloris pushed Lautaro Martinez’s strike right at him in extra-time. He forced it home despite Jules Kounde’s best attempts with 10 minutes to go.
Messi for the winner? Yet France found a way again.
Mbappe had ice running through his veins as he stepped up with another penalty after Gonzalo Montiel had blocked his shot with his arm in the 118th minute.
One second it was Messi’s final, then it was Mbappe’s. It could have been Kolo Muani’s in the final moments of extra-time but Emi Martinez pulled off a stunning save to keep Messi’s dream alive. There would be more heroics from the Aston Villa man in the shootout.
First Mbappe would score from the spot. The France star has already won a World Cup, he deserved another here but he will have his time again. His walk past Messi to the centre circle was the passing of greatness.
Martinez pulled off a stunning save to deny Kingsley Coman. It was back in Argentina’s hands thanks to their eccentric shot stopper. When Aurelien Tchouameni fired wide it felt like a formality. Martinez did a little jig, Leandro Paredes and Montiel finished the job Messi began.
The little magician had his Diego Maradona moment and Argentina won the World Cup for the first time since 1986. He lifted the trophy among his team-mates on the stage but this was his perfect finale in the final to top all finals.
Messi may have won the World Cup once but he won it three times in one night here. It will never be forgotten.
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- Kylian Mbappe
- Lionel Messi
- World Cup
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