By Sedara Oluwadara
Lionel Messi finally achieved his World Cup dream as Argentina won their third crown on penalties following one of the greatest finals in the tournament’s history at Lusail Stadium.
Argentina won 4-2 in the shootout after a spectacular game which developed into the much-anticipated confrontation between the 35-year-old maestro Messi and his France opposite number Kylian Mbappe, who scored a hat-trick – the first in a World Cup final since 1966 – but still ended up on the losing side.
Messi looked to be securing the one major honour missing from his glittering collection in comfort as Argentina cruised into a two-goal lead, only for an explosive intervention from Mbappe turned a spectacular encounter on its head with two goals inside a minute late on.
Messi had given Argentina lead from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute following Ousmane Dembele’s foul on Angel Di Maria.
It made him the first player in World Cup history to score in the group stage, last 16, quarter-final, semi-final and final of a single tournament.
He then contributed a delicate touch within a magnificent counter-attack that ended with Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister setting up Di Maria for the second 13 minutes later.
Argentina were untroubled until the closing stages, only for Mbappe to give France a lifeline from the penalty spot with nine minutes left – then restore equality with a magnificent volley moments later.
Messi bundled Argentina back in front in extra time, but Mbappe completed his treble from the spot two minutes from the end of a frantic, chaotic added spell.
And so it went to penalties, with the two greats opening the scoring.
But Argentina and Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez saved from Kingsley Coman, before Aurelian Tchouameni missed, leaving Gonzalo Montiel to win the World Cup.
Messi, a World Cup winner at last, collapsed to his knees in the centre circle and was engulfled by jubilant Argentina team-mates