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Argentina’s Lionel Messi with the Golden Ball award after Argentina’s victory over France in the World Cup final in Qatar on Sunday. Photo: AFP

World Cup final: Messi fires Argentina to glory in dramatic win over France, as Mbappe scores hat-trick in losing cause

  • Lionel Messi scored twice, Kylian Mbappe got three and in the end it needed penalties to separate the two No 10s
  • Argentina captain completes fairy-tale triumph in what could be the last time he plays for his country

Lionel Messi cemented his status alongside Pele and Diego Maradona in the pantheon of football’s all-time greats in the most dramatic fashion on Sunday, as Argentina beat France 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out to claim the World Cup title at Lusail Stadium.

Tied 3-3 at the end of the most thrilling final in a generation – perhaps of all time – and after penalty misses by Kingsley Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni, Gonzalo Montiel’s strike in the fourth round of spot kicks secured a third title for Argentina to go along with wins in 1978 and 1986.

Messi, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, and Angel di Maria had given Argentina a two-goal lead by half-time, but two goals in as many minutes from Kylian Mbappe late in the game took proceedings into extra-time, where Messi struck again, only for Mbappe’s second penalty to send the game to a shoot-out.

For so much of the game France, seeking to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to successfully defend the title, were a shadow of the side that eliminated Poland, England and Morocco on the way to the final.

The decider had been billed as a battle between Messi and Mbappe, a generational tussle featuring the elder statesman’s Paris Saint-Germain teammate and his heir apparent as the world’s leading player.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring his side’s opening goal during the World Cup final against France. Photo: AP

Already a World Cup winner four years ago in Russia, the 23-year-old was looking for a second title despite his relative youth.

Mbappe had appeared relaxed and confident as he sang the national anthem, but throughout the opening 70 minutes he was rarely afforded the opportunity to turn on his afterburners and challenge the Argentinians with his defence-destroying pace.

Instead, France faltered. Ousmane Dembele and Jules Kounde had no answer to di Maria, who started for the first time since the group phase and was pivotal in his side’s early domination.

Argentina’s Angel Di Maria scores his side’s second. Photo: AP

The 34-year-old won a penalty when he tricked Dembele into clipping his heels in the box midway through the first half, and Messi stepped up to score his sixth goal of the tournament.

None of the playmaker’s previous attempts from the spot over five World Cups have been as important, and rarely has he displayed such composure.

Soon the lead was doubled, and again di Maria was instrumental.

Dayot Upamecano’s loose pass was quickly played forward by Nahuel Molina from deep inside his own half and, in a flash of five passes that saw possession shuttled quickly through Messi and Julian Alvarez, the ball was in the net behind Hugo Lloris again, after Alexis Mac Allister rolled possession to his left for di Maria to smash into the bottom corner.

The Argentina fans, significantly in the majority of the 88,966 crowd, were in raptures, their songs of celebration cascading down and around the magnificent cauldron of the Lusail Stadium.

A shell-shocked Deschamps was stung into action. Olivier Giroud and Dembele were replaced with four minutes of the first half remaining by Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani, as the French coach sought a way to pep up a team trailing badly.

Les Bleus’ looked to have left themselves too much to do. Only once before had a team come back from two goals down to win a World Cup final, when West Germany beat Hungary in the Miracle of Bern in 1954.

France’s Kylian Mbappe celebrates scoring his third goal from the penalty spot. Photo: AFP

Thuram’s dangerous ball across the six-yard box signalled French intent, while Kolo Muani headed over the bar midway through the second half. Mbappe was later left frustrated as he thumped an effort high over the bar with what was France’s first serious sight of goal.

Di Maria left to a rousing reception with 26 minutes remaining, his job complete, and Deschamps made further changes, withdrawing Theo Hernandez and the unusually ineffective Antoine Griezmann in favour of Kingsley Coman and Eduardo Camavinga.

With time ticking down the French were handed a lifeline. Nicolas Otamendi’s clumsy grapple with Kolo Muani resulted in a penalty and Mbappe fired into the corner, his 80th minute strike marginally evading the outstretched hand of goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

A minute later the game was level. It was Messi who was dispossessed by Coman before the ball was shuttled on to Rabiot. His pass found Mbappe, and, after a one-two over the top of the Argentinian defence by Thuram, the PSG striker mercilessly volleyed in. Cue pandemonium.

Messi forced Lloris into a late save to take the game into extra-time, where substitute Lautaro Martinez was twice denied by Upamecano in the final seconds of the first period as both teams visibly tired.

Messi lifts the trophy as he celebrates with teammates and fans after winning the World Cup final against France on Sunday. Photo: EPA-EFE

Martinez was at the heart of Messi’s second, staying just onside to shoot goalwards. Lloris saved, but Messi pounced on the rebound, the ball clearing the line despite French efforts to hack clear.

Still France would not lie down. The ball hit Montiel on the arm during another period of pressure on the Argentinian penalty area and, for the third time, the referee pointed to the spot. Mbappe was decisive and the game headed for the agony of penalties.

After successful efforts from Mbappe and Messi, Coman saw his attempt saved by Emiliano Martinez while, after Paulo Dybala converted, Tchouameni shot wide to ultimately set up Montiel to hit the winner.