As regular readers of this column will know, I had wished for an Argentina versus Portugal final because I wanted the two best players of modern if not all times – Messi and Ronaldo – to slug it out for the ultimate World Cup honour… and in the end I saw half my wish come true.
Like millions of others, I was delighted to see the little Argentinian crown his star-laden career by lifting the greatest prize in World football as captain of his country.
At 35, it is doubtful if he will get back in four years’ time to the next tournament so it was vital that his side got past the post in Qatar on Sunday afternoon. Certainly everyone in Smiths in Ranelagh where I watched the game were cheering Argentina on like they were an adopted team.
Leaving aside all the political rights and wrongs – we spoke about those some time ago – this was a captivating series of games with Sunday’s match encapsulating the whole tournament in how it burst into life to become arguably the best final – certainly the best that I can remember.
And it proved, if indeed it was needed, that both Messi and Ronaldo now have company in the higher echelons of great players. It almost defies logic how Mbappe, can score a hat-trick in a World Cup final and end up on the losing side.
Like France, he was listless and virtually anonymous for the first 80 minutes of the game but then when he burst into life, what an explosion that proved to be.
When Messi scored the first goal from a penalty and then had a hand in the second for Di Maria, it looked like Argentina were going to win a poor enough final but I didn’t care as it meant Messi would get his reward after many failures to do so.
Then when Mbappe scores twice and they head into extra time and Messi gets his second to put his side 3-2 up, I was thinking “surely this is it now.”
However, Mbappe’s second penalty made it 3-3 and it was all down to the lottery of penalty kicks. Fair play to both Messi and Mbappe, they both stood up as leaders unlike Ronaldo and Neymar by taking the first spot kick for their country.
I have to praise Argentina’s goalkeeper Martinez for the way he dominated this part of the game. Although he ended up being beaten three time from the spot by Mbappe, he psyched out the other kickers and by saving and forcing another to shoot wide, well you could say he played a big part in winning the World Cup for his country – their first since Diego Maradona did a ‘Messi’ by leading them to glory in Mexico back in 1986. And with the Copa Americano also bagged last year, well the wheel of fortune has finally worked for him.
Football is a religion in South America and no sooner has the final whistle blown on Sunday than Buenos Aires, the Argentinian capital, was heaving with what looked like a million people out on the streets celebrating.
With France, Germany, Italy and Spain all dominating since Brazil won it back in 2002, I believe the whole of South American continent was cheering for Messi and Co on Sunday. And to think they got to the summit after losing to Saudia Arabia in group phase.
Time will tell if it was the greatest ever World Cup event as FIFA President Gianni Infantino was at pains to point out at every opportunity but it certainly was different and it certainly produced more shocks and good games than I thought would happen.
Already I’m looking forward to 2026 when the USA, Canada and Mexico will host as a tri-national experiment. One thing for certain is there will be plenty of travel if a team gets past the first phase but all that is for another day.
In the meantime, as we return back to day-to-day normality, can I wish everyone a happy Christmas and I hope there will be sunshine aplenty in your lives in the New Year.
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