Mbappe’s hat-trick not enough for Les Blues
Thirty-six years after Argentina’s ‘god,’ Diego Amando Maradona, led his country to win their second FIFA World Cup title, his heir, Lionel Messi, yesterday at the Lusail Stadium, Qatar, entered the global football immortality list when he motivated another group of players from the South American country to another Copa du Mundo glory.
But success came in the worst possible manner for a team that had waited for so long for football’s holy grail. The Argentines raced into a first half 2-0 lead and controlled the final so well, that neutrals in the stadium thought the game was signed, sealed and delivered. But Kylian Mbappe had other ideas. He turned the game on its head with a stunning 95-second brace.
The PSG strongman, who, pre-game, was tipped to light up the final, was made completely anonymous for the vast majority of the match by Lionel Scaloni’s tactic, which ensured he did not get anywhere near the ball.
While he was in the wilderness, Argentina’s Messi had a field day, scoring one from the penalty spot and engineering another by Angel di Maria, which gave the South Americans a commanding 2-0 lead even before the half hour mark.
France’s comeback started from the penalty spot when Nicolas Otamendi clumsily brought down Marcus Thuram on the spot. Mbappe stepped up to convert the kick and reduce the tally to 2-1 and almost immediately after, the golden boy of French football made it all square. He smashed a stunning volley past Emiliano Martinez when teed up by Thuram.
Not top be outdone on his biggest night, Messi scored an extra-time goal that seemed to have put the trophy back in Argentina’s hands. The ball came off Hugo Lloris, who had saved Lautaro Martínez’s initial shot, and Messi, on his right leg, whacked it into the net.
For a moment, there was a question as to whether it had crossed the line. Then there was a question as to whether Martínez was offside. But the goal was confirmed to give Argentina a 3-2 lead.
Mbappe, though, was lurking on the corner. He soon got his hat-trick when Gonzalo Montiel was adjudged to have handled the ball with two minutes left before penalties. Then to penalties they went.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez, who had been quietly doing his business of ensuring Argentina did not concede goals, stepped up to be counted when it mattered most.
He got a hand to Kingsley Coman’s attempt, while psyching Aurélien Tchouaméni to miss wide left. Argentina were flawless, scoring a perfect four-for-four.
For 16 years with Argentina’s national team, Messi has fallen short again and again and again. He was reduced to living in the shadow of Diego Maradona, even as Maradona himself only got Messi, as far as the quarterfinals in South Africa 2010. He suffered what looked like personal traumas at the Maracanã in the 2014 final, and in the 2016 Copa America final against Chile, briefly retiring from the national team after the latter.
Heading into the final, the top scorer’s competition had narrowed down to four primary contenders, being Messi, Mbappe, Giroud and Alvarez. Mbappe won the race for the World Cup Golden Boot on the last day, his eight goals proving too much for Messi to match.
He finished the tournament with eight goals and two assists, in turn seeing off competition from Messi, Olivier Giroud and Julian Alvarez. His rival Lionel Messi finished in second with seven goals and three assists for Argentina.
Yesterday’s win crowned Messi’s clean sweep of FIFA titles as he added the World Cup to the 2005 U-20 Championship and 2008 Olympics gold medals he won in the early years of his career.