It was a World Cup final match like no other in history.
Qatar 2022 served up a breathless and relentless climax in which Argentina beat France via 4-2 penalty-kicks.
The game was stalemated at 3-3 after extra-time, and the lottery of penalty-kicks had to be drawn up to settle the matter.
No person with a weak heart could have survived the heart-thumping match that served as the end of Qatar 2022, the only World Cup ever played in winter.
The match started out with Argentina, led by the exceptional Lionel Messi, in fine fettle, dominating play while putting France and the inspirational danger-man, Kylian Mbappe, to the sword.
On the stroke of 23 minutes on the watch, Argentina’s feisty Angel di Maria was clumsily felled by France’s fumbling Ousmane Dembele in the penalty-box, and Messi stepped up to stroke in the penalty for a 1-0 lead for Argentina.
The French team offered no spirited response whatsoever, and Angel di Maria doubled the lead of the Argentines after 36 minutes.
The World Cup final was looking like a disastrous rout against lethargic France such that Coach Didier Deschamps, who had led the team to conquer the world in Russia 2018, had to make first-half substitutions by withdrawing the ineffective Dembele and the country’s highest goal-scorer Olivier Giroud.
France had not put any shot on target but then earned a penalty in the 80th minute which was converted by Mbappe.
Barely a minute after, in the 81st minute, Mbappe expertly volleyed home the equalizer, and the match shot up a troika of gears.
A game that a lot of people were already seeing as a coronation for Messi had somewhat turned on its head in the manner as it is said that football is like a biscuit no one knows from where it will break.
Argentina and France fought back and forth until the final minute of normal time, and then the match extended to extra-time.
Magic man Messi restored Argentina’s lead on the dot of 108 minutes during a goalmouth scramble.
The thought that the pulsating game would end as a 3-2 win for Argentina perished when Messi’s team conceded yet another penalty, and Mbappe sent goalie Emiliano Martinez the wrong way on 118th minute.
Mbappe made history by netting only the second hat-trick in a World Cup final after Sir Geoff Hurst did it for England in the 1966 final staged at Wembley stadium.
France could have had a last gasp winner but goalie Martinez saved Argentina’s blushes with his outstretched left leg when the French substitute striker Kolo Muani was sent clean through on goal.
In the penalty shootout decider, Mbappe scored first for France while Messi scored for Argentina. Then goalie Martinez saved the penalty of France’s Coman while Argentina’s Dybala scored for a 2-1 shootout lead. France’s Tchouameni fluffed his kick upon goalie Martinez’s mind games while Argentina’s Parades scored for a 3-1 lead. Kolo Muani of France scored and then Montiel of Argentina wrapped up the match by scoring his kick for a 4-2 win via penalties.
Argentina erupted in momentous joy from inside the stadium in Qatar to all the streets of Buenos Aires and the entire South American country.
A heavy burden had been lifted off the shoulders of Messi who needed to win the World Cup to be his crowning glory.
All who believe that Messi is the Greatest of all Time (GOAT) footballer needed the winning of this World Cup as certitude.
Skipper Messi lifted the world trophy with aplomb, and it’s for me a fitting heroism to take the opportunity once it called, whence the title above: Greatest Opportunity of All Time (GOAT).
It was heartbreak for the hat-trick hitman Mbappe who was inconsolable even after winning the Golden boot of the tournament ahead of Messi.
Messi won the Golden Ball as the player of the tournament, thus becoming the only person to have won the title in two World Cup finals.
There are so many sub-plots to Qatar 2022, notably the rivalry between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal as per who ought to claim the title of GOAT.
The supporters of Ronaldo wanted France to win so that Messi could not surpass their superstar with the coveted victory, Portugal having been knocked out in the quarter-finals by Morocco.
Some blokes even accused FIFA of bias toward Messi in wanting the Argentine magician to win the World Cup as a final fulfilment of his status as the very best, but that is neither here nor there!
The GOAT war in football will never end because the partisans in the duel would never ever come to a congruence on whether it should be Pele of Brazil or Maradona of Argentina, or Messi also of Argentina, or Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, or Mbappe of France or some foetus still in the womb of time!
Even so, nothing should detract from the World Cup staged in Qatar which the West wanted to scoff at but ended up showcasing an unravelled tournament and a final match that ranks as the very best in history.
Qatar took up the opportunity of hosting the World Cup with distinction, and Qatar 2022 alongside Messi deserve the GOAT title!
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