Argentina and their idol Lionel Messi finally fulfilled what they considered their destiny, winning football’s greatest prize, the Fifa World Cup Sunday in Lusail City.
The South American champions also became the world champions, beating France 4-2 in penalty kicks after the two giants of the game had battled to an enthralling 3-3 draw in 120 minutes of play at the tournament’s biggest venue, Lusail Stadium that registered an official attendance figure of 88,966.
Argentina were perfect on the spot, with Messi, Paulo Dybala, Leandro Paredes and Gonzalo Montiel scoring their first four attempts while France could only manage to score via Kylian Mbappe and Randal Kolo. Les Bleus’s Kingsley Coman saw his kick saved while Aurelien Tchoumeni fired wide.
This was the first time a World Cup final was being decided by penalty kicks since Germany 2006 when Italy beat France 5-3 after the two teams had battled to a 1-1 draw in regulation time.
It was also the first time a South American team was winning the World Cup since Brazil in Japan/South Korea 2002
The majority of fans in the stadium were rooting for Argentina and they burst into song as others screamed “Messi, Messi!”, enraptured in the moment: the World Cup trophy was going to Buenos Aires after 36 years.
Before Sunday’s triumph, the Albiceleste had last won the world title in 1986 with their greatest football talent then, Diego Maradona.
His presence was at Lusail Stadium, with several fans wearing shirts and brandishing flags bearing the departed Argentine football icon’s image.
But they were also ecstatically celebrating their current football icon, Messi, who had a huge influence in the game and who was finally laying his hand on the title that had eluded him for so long.
Messi scored two goals that sandwiched the one he had a hand in.
Argentina now becomes the fourth most successful nation at the World Cup with three titles, behind Brazil (five titles) and Italy and Germany (both with four titles).
Argentina started the match at blistering pace and looked the more likely team to score.
They duly did, Messi sending Hugo Lloris the wrong way with his penalty kick after Angela Di Maria, starting his first game for Argentina, had been brought down in the box in the 21st minute.
Minutes earlier Di Maria, who was a live wire in the one half he played, had skied his effort from close range after another dangerous move by the Argentines.
The Albiceleste doubled their lead on 36 minutes, Di Maria finishing off a sweeping move by Argentina initiated from midfield by Messi with a deft pass executed with the outside of his foot.
The South Americans completely shut down Mbappe in this half. In fact, the only real chance France got came via a free kick at the edge of the field met with the head of Olivier Giroud but sailing over the bar.
Such was this half for the French that their coach Didier Deschamps was compelled to make two substitutions, bringing in Kolo for the off-colour Ousmane Dembele and Marcus Thuram for Giroud.
Argentina seemed to be cruising before two crazy minutes from Mbappe, who finished the tournament as the Golden Boot winner with eight goals.
Kolo was brought down in the box 80 minutes on and the PSG striker stepped up to calmly slot home.
Two minutes later Mbapped got on the end of Coman’s pass to slam home with a sliding effort and level the game 2-2.
Remarkably, Mbappe had made his first attempt at goal in the 70th minute, firing over the bar from the edge of the danger area.
The game went into extra time with the Europeans on the ascendancy.
But Argentina dug deep and looked to have nicked it in the 109th minute when Messi stabbed home a loose ball after Hugo Lloris had failed to hold on to the ball.
Mbappe struck back for France two minutes before time, converting a penalty after Montiel had handled the ball in the box.
Neither team deserved to lose, and the gripping match would end up being decided by penalties.