Kabul: Argentina won their third World Cup in an extraordinary final on Sunday as they beat France 4-2 on penalties after Lionel Messi scored twice in a 3-3 draw and Kylian Mbappe grabbed a hat-trick to bring the holders back from 2-0 and 3-2 down.
It was an incredible night of drama, high emotion and fluctuating fortunes, delivering one of the all-time great finals to cap a wonderful tournament as its two star players delivered command performances on the biggest stage of all.
Argentina had looked to be cruising to a one-sided victory after Messi’s penalty and a brilliant goal by Angel Di Maria in the first half put them in total control but Mbappe converted an 80th-minute penalty and volleyed in a sublime equaliser a minute later to take the game to extra time.
Messi put Argentina ahead again but Mbappe levelled with another penalty, becoming the second man to score a World Cup final hat-trick after England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966.
In the shootout, Argentina keeper Emiliano Martinez saved Kingsley Coman’s effort and Aurelien Tchouameni fired wide. That gave substitute full back Gonzalo Montiel, who gave away the penalty for France’s third goal, the chance for the ultimate redemption, which he duly took by calmly sending Hugo Lloris the wrong way.
It meant that after his record 26th World Cup match, at the fifth and final time of asking, the 35-year-old Messi claimed the trophy his talent and commitment to his country demanded, elevating him alongside Diego Maradona, Argentina’s first football master, who carried them to their emotional second triumph in 1986 following the first in 1978.
The victory seems all the more incredible coming a month after his team began the tournament by suffering statistically the biggest upset in World Cup history when they lost to Saudi Arabia.
Argentina have now won six of their seven World Cup shootouts, including the quarter-final against the Netherlands a week ago when they also blew a 2-0 lead in the same Lusail Stadium.
France, the only team to have scored three goals in a final and lost, have tasted defeat in three of five shootouts, two of those losses coming in finals.
Two hours after the game, thousands of Argentina fans, many in Number 10 Messi shirts, remained in the stadium as the players and their families posed for pictures on the pitch and went for a joyous lap of honour, parading the golden trophy they last had their hands on 36 years ago.