Messi magic on display, Argentina downs France in World Cup penalty shootout

Lusail, Qatar, Dec 18 (EFE).- The beautiful game.

And a chaotic and adrenaline-filled World Cup final match like no other in history.

Argentina hoisted the World Cup trophy for the third time on Sunday evening here, after downing defending champions France in a tense but tumultuous penalty kick shootout after two 15-minute overtime sessions and assorted minutes of stoppage time left the nailbiter tied at 3-3 at the end of 120 minutes of regulation play.

The first half was all Argentina, as 35-year-old team captain Leo Messi scored the first goal of Sunday’s final before almost 89,000 fans in the stands at Lusail Stadium, not to mention uncounted millions watching worldwide, putting the Argentines in the lead against France.

Messi’s goal came in minute 23 from the penalty spot after Ousmane Dembele fouled Angel Di Maria.

A second goal – this one a beauty – by Di Maria in minute 36 doubled the Albiceleste’s advantage ahead of the halftime whistle, and there matters rested until play resumed.

The intermission couldn’t have come too soon for France, who struggled during the first half and did not fire a single shot on goal – and in fact didn’t even try for a tally until the 71st minute – while Argentina romped down the pitch time and again, notching two goals in the process.

French coach, Didier Deschamps, made a double substitution in the 40th minute and swapped winger Dembele and forward Giroud for Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani.

No team has ever won a World Cup title after going into a two-goal deficit in the final, but France roared back in the second half with the fabulous Kylian Mbappe scoring two by the end of 90 minutes of play.

Mbappe’s bang-bang tallies came in the 80th and 81st minutes, the first on a penalty kick into the corner after Nicolas Otamendi fouled Kolo Muani, and the second on a powerful blast to even things up.

The match went into a 15-minute overtime, with French netminder Hugo Lloris tipping Messi’s thunderous shot-on-goal over the bar after seven minutes of play and then in the 105th minute Martinez had his shot blocked by Upamecano to keep things at 2-2.

A second overtime period ensued, with Messi once again the man on the spot in the 109th minute for the 3-2, but just two minutes before time it was Mbappe lasering in a penalty kick for his third goal of the night, just the second hat trick in history in a World Cup final.

France didn’t stop there, though, desperately focusing on going for the win to avoid a penalty kick shootout, but Kolo Muani’s glancing header went wide in minute 120 and Argentine goaltender Emiliano Martinez made a nearly unbelievable save on another shot by Kolo Muani in the third minute of stoppage time thus sending the match into the shootout.

France fired first, with Mbappe sinking his shot, although Martinez got a hand on the ball. Then, Messi rolled one in after sending Lloris the wrong way for the 1-1.

Kingsley Coman’s shot for France was saved by Martinez, but Paulo Dybala hit right down the middle for the Albiceleste, putting things at 2-1.

Aurelien Tchouameni missed just outside the left post for France, whereupon Leandro Paredes found the twine for Argentina, getting them to 3-1.

Kolo Muani gave France a second shootout tally with a nice arrow right down the middle and into the twine, and thus it was up to Gonzalo Montiel for the Argentines, and he did not disappoint, sending the ball into the left corner past Lloris for the win.

And then it was pandemonium among the already frenzied Argentines in the stands; among the weeping, embracing players on the pitch and among the millions around the world, while the French players looked sober but accepting rather than stunned at the turn of events.

Messi thus closed out his 17-year career after 172 games for Argentina at the absolute summit with the World Cup victory he craved, pulling himself level with Diego Maradona, who also led his team to the world title for the Albiceleste in 1986. The bearded and tattooed team captain was awarded the Golden Boot for the match, although if France had won it certainly would have gone to Kylian Mbappe for his hat trick and shootout tally.

Argentina’s third World Cup final win came after in 1978 the Albiceleste defeated The Netherlands 3-1 at home and eight years later downed the Federal Republic of Germany 3-2 in Mexico.

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