Messi and Argentina: Dreams do come true

Lionel Messi’s swansong resulted in probably one of the best final matches the FIFA World Cup has ever seen. Argentina won, but just, yet, Messi’s magic was on show in bright colours, Kylian Mbappe’s hattrick notwithstanding.

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Lionel Messi with his teammates rejoice with the World Cup

Argentina made the sharper start, assisted by sloppy French passing. Angel Di Maria skied the first decent chance over the bar and was then tripped by Dembele for the penalty which broke the deadlock. Polish referee Szymon Marciniak did not need VAR to help him decide to point to the spot and Messi duly shot Argentina ahead.

Argentina were eager to stretch their lead. Driven forward by the vigour of Rodrigo De Paul and Enzo Fernandez in midfield, they were showing a far superior will to engage in combat.

France were playing as if in a trance, and fell further behind in the 36th minute. Nahuel Molina and Alexis Mac Allister broke up a French attack down the left, Messi found Julian Alvarez and he sent the perpetual motion Mac Allister clear. The midfielder’s cross was weighted perfectly for onrushing Di Maria to swipe first time across and beyond Lloris.

This was in only the 36th minute yet France looked down and out already. It was an admission of desperation that coach Didier Deschamps immediately replaced the ineffective Olivier Giroud and Dembele with Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani.

France, within 45 minutes of losing their grip on the World Cup, sought to raise their game after the interval but appeared down and out until the 79th minute. Then substitute Randal Kolo Muani was chased down by Nicolas Otamendi and Mbappe struck home from the penalty spot.

One more minute and France, incredibly, were level through Mbappe again. Substitute Kingsley Coman robbed Messi – of all people – in midfield and Marcus Thuram exchanged passes with Mbappe who volleyed fiercely past Martinez.

Now all the momentum was with France but in extra time Argentina pulled themselves back together. In the second half, Messi forced a diving save from Hugo Lloris then he put Argentina back into the lead in the 109th minute after the goalkeeper had saved bravely from substitute Lautaro Martinez.

AWARDS

Golden ball (best player): Leo Messi (Argentina)

Golden shoe (top scorer): Kylian Mbappe (France) 8 goals

Golden glove (best goalkeeper): Emiliano Martinez (Argentina)

Young player: Enzo Fernandez (Argentina)

Fair play: England

The World Cup extravaganza had cost Qatar £200bn while FIFA has reaped £7bn.