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  • Writer's pictureRowan Mackey

World Cup Final recap

World Cup Final - Argentina 3, France 3 (Argentina win 4-2 on penalties)

Lionel Messi and Argentina claimed a famous FIFA World Cup crown over France in a memorable clash

Sometimes, things happen in sport that make you contend with life’s bigger themes.

Sometimes, improbable events occur in such a way that it’s as if some invisible scriptwriter has conspired with the players on the field to optimally stir spectators’ emotions and force them to reflect on the meaning of words like destiny and fate.

So it was the case when Lionel Messi slumped to his knees, swamped by teammates and overcome with the realisation that he had finally delivered his nation World Cup glory.

Messi has been somewhat of a transcendent figure in football since he made his debut for Spanish giant Barcelona at the tender age of 16.

Being a diminutive left-footer from Argentina who possessed a seemingly other-world-like amount of talent, Messi was always lived in the shadow of Argentinian legend Diego Maradona.

It was an impossible task for anyone to be compared to Maradona, who has been deified in places such as Naples and Argentina, where people regularly got to see him play.

It was a seemingly impossible task for Messi to step out of the shadow of Maradona. It could only have been done with a World Cup win.

Now, with Argentina’s triumph over France, Messi joins Maradona and takes his place in the pantheon of the all-time greatest players.

Obviously, Argentina’s World Cup win was about more than one player, despite how central Messi was to the whole thing. So let’s broaden the lens a little bit and look at five things we learned from the World Cup Final.

Five Things We Learned

Scaloni Will Be the Other Lionel Who’ll Be Lionised In Argentina

Lionel Messi will forever stand as a symbol of this World Cup win and will justifiably be exalted for his performance throughout the tournament.

But Messi isn’t the only Lionel that Argentinians will be celebrating today after manager Lionel Scaloni made several brave decisions that proved pivotal in their win.

Firstly, Scaloni chose to play Angel Di Maria, who was under an injury cloud and had only played limited minutes in the previous matches. Di Maria then played on the left wing, opposite the field from his typical position.

Di Maria was vital for Argentina in the 63 minutes he was on the field, earning the penalty and scoring Argentina’s second goal.

Di Maria himself will quite rightly get much of the credit for his performance in the final, but the decision to play him was a brave one, let alone playing him in a less typical position.

Scaloni then made several influential substitutions throughout the match to help arrest back momentum when France was starting to get the upper hand.

Workhorses Rodrigo De Paul, Julian Alvarez and Nahuel Molina, the latter of whom had been tracking Mbappe throughout the game, were all replaced early in extra time. It injected vital energy and fresh legs into Argentina, who scored a goal 5 minutes later through a counter-attacking run expertly bundled over the line by Lionel Messi.

You could tell the win meant a lot to Scaloni. There is a brilliant video of the roughly 90 seconds following the final whistle. It shows the range of emotions he feels, from satisfaction to joy, before finally breaking down as he comes to terms with the gravity of what he’s just done.

It wasn’t just in the final that Scaloni showed his managerial ability, either. Argentina had been on a 36-game unbeaten run prior to the World Cup, and the loss to Saudi Arabia in their first game threatened to derail their campaign.

However, Scaloni was able to implement a successful system after shuffling his side mid-tournament. For example, he brought Julian Alvarez into the starting XI to partner Messi, despite Alvarez being only 22 and not getting much recent game time for Manchester City.

Scaloni’s story of reaching the role as Argentina’s manager is an incredible one.

He was only elevated to the position of Argentinian manager after the Argentinian Football Association was unable to afford a replacement for sacked manager Jorge Sampaoli. Scaloni had been assistant manager under Sampaoli and initially faced criticism for his lack of managerial experience. He was only initially appointed for two games whilst the Argentinian FA found a longer-term replacement.

Three major trophies later, now including a famous World Cup win, Scaloni will be forever celebrated and respected in his homeland for the rest of his life and beyond.

Messi Now Joins Maradona In Football’s Pantheon Of Greatness

It’s hard to put into words the significance of what Argentina’s win means for the legacy of Lionel Messi in the eyes of football fans around the world and his native homeland of Argentina.

On a simplistic level, football can be reduced to a trivial game that involves people running around a field trying to kick a pocket of air through a target. However, for those who appreciate the many layers a sporting narrative can provide, this win is worth so much more.

If you were to chronicle the circumstances that fully contextualise the significance of Argentina’s win in this World Cup, your story would start with a young boy called Diego kicking oranges around the backstreets and barrios of Argentina because he didn’t have a football to play with.

Messi’s legacy has always been tied with Maradona, and he has at times been both celebrated and disparaged for his similarity to the late Argentine great.

When Messi retired from international football in 2014, there was a feeling that Messi himself was failing in his own sense to compare himself to Maradona. “We’ve lost four major finals. It’s not for me,” Messi said when he retired from Argentina’s national team.

At the time, there was a sense that the full context of Messi’s statement was that “it is for Maradona, but it’s not for me.”

Now, having equalled Maradona’s achievement, Messi has become his equal.

Looking back at all Messi has overcome in his career, it truly is a remarkable achievement.

Messi’s retirement in 2014 was partly motivated by criticism from a subsection of Argentina's media that said he wasn’t a “true Argentinian.” They lambasted him for flying in and out of international camps on private planes, unlike his teammates, and stated that he was “more Spanish than Argentinian.”

It was a bitter blow for Messi, who left his home country at 13 years of age and was said to have cried himself to sleep at night when he left his family and friends behind at such a young age.

The move to Spain was a big move for a young boy who had his share of personal difficulties in childhood. Messi’s nickname is ‘la pulga’, or ‘the flea,’ based on his diminutive stature caused by a human growth hormone deficiency he was treated for in childhood.

When Messi stood atop the dais with his Argentinian teammates hoisting the World Cup trophy in the air, it was the culmination of one of the most storied careers in football history.

From his debut at the age of 16, he was slated for greatness, and now, at 35, he completes his collection of achievements with nothing really left in the game that he hasn’t done.

Messi is likely to add an eighth Ballon d’Or trophy to his extensive collection at the end of this season, and having now done all there is to do, who knows how long his illustrious career has left.

If there’s one thing that’s for sure, now a World Cup winner, Messi sits right at the very top of football greats. He and Maradona had different careers and played in different eras, so in my view, they’re hard to compare overall. However, looking at Messi in isolation, with his many individual achievements and team trophies, he has had as close to the perfect career as one player is likely to have, and I am so grateful to have had the privilege of seeing it.

Messi Took Centre Stage Today, But Mbappe Waits In The Wings

Most of the talk will quite rightly be about Lionel Messi following the World Cup Final, but it would be remiss not to acknowledge the effort of his club teammate Kylian Mbappe.

Mbappe became only the second player ever to score a hat-trick in a World Cup Final and only narrowly missed out on his second World Cup winners medal, even though he’s still only 23 years of age.

It almost certainly won’t be the last we see of Mbappe on the world’s biggest stage. He showed throughout this tournament that if he continues on his current career trajectory, he’s every chance to join players like Messi and Maradona at the very top of the tree in terms of how footballers are regarded.

You could tell when France was losing that any chance they had of getting back into the game revolved around Mbappe’s capacity to deliver for his team.

French manager Didier Deschamps substituted France’s two other main attacking players only 40 minutes into the first half, so it was clear who the main avenue to goal was for the French.

When France was awarded a penalty in the 81st minute of the match and Mbappe was given the responsibility to get his team back into the game, it was all the motivation that the young superstar needed to take the game by the scruff of the neck.

Within two minutes, Mbappe added another, equalising with a sublime volley and completing an unlikely comeback. For the remainder of the 90 minutes, it was as if France, led by Mbappe’s newfound spark of energy, would run over the top of tired Argentinian legs.

In extra time, when he was again called upon to equalise from the penalty spot, he stood firm for a second time. We’ve seen throughout the tournament how fraught taking a second penalty within a single match can be. Harry Kane skied his decisive penalty over the bar against France, relegating his team from the competition, but Mbappe had no such difficulty.

French captain Hugo Lloris said after the World Cup Final that “it’s time for Mbappe’s generation,” signalling not only his impending personal retirement but the likely role that Mbappe is likely to play in the next iteration of the French national team.

On this occasion, it was Messi’s day. The Argentinian champion earned a just reward for a long career in pursuit of the elusive honour. Mbappe’s career trajectory is a different one. Having already won a World Cup, Mbappe may still challenge Pele’s record of three World Cups.

At the least, he will surely break Miroslav Klose’s record of 16 World Cup goals. Mbappe currently sits only four goals behind him, with potentially three World Cups still to come in his career.

It's unlikely to be the last we see of Mbappe on the world stage, and dare I say, it won’t even be the last of him we see in a World Cup Final. Today it was Messi’s turn, but we will have ample time to celebrate the French superstar for many years to come.

Di Maria Argentina’s Angel Seemingly Sent From Above

When the team sheets came out showing Angel Di Maria returning from injury to Argentina’s starting lineup, there was some surprise.

Di Maria hadn’t managed many minutes for the previous few games since he was injured earlier in the tournament. Lionel Scaloni was taking a substantial risk by playing the ageing winger.

It was a decision that paid dividends, however, as Di Maria was arguably Argentina’s best player in the time that he was on the pitch, earning a penalty and scoring a goal to put Argentina in a strong position by the time he eventually did come off.

In fact, it seems that Di Maria’s absence gave the French players a much-needed boost as they sparked to life after Di Maria was taken off the field.

The fact that Scaloni played Di Maria on the left, instead of his usual right-wing position, is also something that will be spoken about for a long time.

Many people would have expected that, if Di Maria did play in the final, he would have lined up on the right side of the field so that he could exploit Kylian Mbappe’s lack of defensive accountability and put pressure on Theo Hernandez, France’s left-back.

In the end, Scaloni chose to deploy Di Maria down on the left so he could target right-back Jules Kounde. Kounde usually plays in the centre-back position for his club side Barcelona, so in placing more pressure on Kounde, Scaloni was able to find a flaw in the French defence.

Di Maria now becomes the only player ever to score in a World Cup Final, a major Continental Cup Final and an Olympic Games final. He has been maligned in some parts of the world, notably after a failed stint with English giant Manchester United, but Di Maria will now be able to look back on his career as one of the world’s most accomplished players at international level.

He has partnered with Messi to win an Under-20 World Cup, an Olympic Games Gold Medal, a Copa America, and now a World Cup and has been pivotal in all of the deciding games.

When people think back to this era of Argentinian football, Messi will take centre-stage in people’s minds, but it’s impossible to ignore the accomplishments of Angel Di Maria, who added another huge achievement with a stellar performance capped off by a goal in a World Cup Final.

Emi Martinez Is A Brick Wall In a Penalty Shootout

Argentian goalkeeper Emilio Martinez was central to his team’s penalty shootout win in the World Cup final against France.

After saving Kingsley Koman’s penalty to give his side a lead, Martinez jumped around wildly in celebration, something atypical of goalkeepers in tight penalty shootouts. It seemed to inspire confidence in his teammates, who did not miss a single penalty.

Martinez then constantly complained to the ref about the positioning of the ball on the penalty spot and agitated the French penalty takers before they took their shot. His antics culminated in throwing the ball away so Aurelien Thcouameni would have to fetch it and stew on the significance of what he was about to do.

Indeed, it worked, and Tchouameni pushed his ball wide of the goal, which gave Argentina an unassailable lead.

Martinez has come under some criticism for his antics throughout the penalty shootout. Some people are even going as far as to call for a rule change to disallow goalkeepers to go to such efforts to put off opposition players, but what’s clear is that Martinez had both the foresight to prepare for the penalty shootout and the tactical nous to implement his strategy with so much on the line.

In beating France, Martinez won his fourth penalty shootout in a row for club and country. Australia’s Andrew Redmayne garnered attention for his unorthodox tactics in the World Cup qualifying match against Peru. His dancing around the goal line tactic was able to see Australia win that shootout and book their place in the World Cup.

Now that Martinez has proved his own unorthodox tactics to be successful on multiple occasions, it will be fascinating to see whether goalkeepers around the world adopt more of a proactive stance when it comes to getting in the face of their opposition and trying to put them off their penalties psychologically.

Martinez was awarded the Golden Gloves Award for being the best goalkeeper in a World Cup tournament. His two penalty shootout wins, with the other coming against the Netherlands in the quarter-final, were a large part of the reason for his receiving that award.

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Argentina Know How to Celebrate a World Cup Win!

They’ve had a little bit of practice at celebrating World Cup wins in Argentina, but it was still staggering to see how many people turned out in celebration of Lionel Messi and his teammates’ triumph.

It’s been reported that millions of people flocked to the streets of Buenos Aires and beyond to celebrate Argentina’s third World Cup win.

The scenes around the obelisk in central Buenos Aires when Argentina’s win was confirmed were more reminiscent of a country triumphing in war than celebrating a team winning a football match. However, it shows just how much the World Cup win means to Argentinians, who have suffered so much in recent years.

In 2021, Argentina suffered devastating bushfires like those in Australia’s Black Summer. It was another blow on top of the global pandemic, in which Argentina was one of the most locked-down countries in the world.

On the back of those immense challenges, Argentina’s economy has experienced 90% inflation in the last 12 months, so the World Cup win is a welcome reward for the people of Argentina.

It's a wonderful reminder of the joy that sport can bring, even in times of relative hardship in other areas of life.

Didier Deschamps May Wish That He Channelled His Inner Graham Arnold

When Graham Arnold substituted goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne onto the field before Australia’s penalty shootout with Peru, many people were shocked by the courage of the decision.

No one could have known what was to come for the Socceroos in Qatar, but looking back now, that one pivotal decision to bring on Redmayne for the penalty shootout will sit long in Australian football folklore.

French manager Didier Deschamps would not want to hear about Redmayne’s heroics and Arnold’s decision to substitute for a goalkeeper for the penalty shootout because it might shine some line on one of his own potential failures in the World Cup Final.

Deschamps used his final substitute of the game in the 121st minute to bring on Axel Disasi. With the power of hindsight, Deschamps may wish he had used his final substitute to change his goalkeeper after Hugo Lloris failed to make a single save in the decisive penalty shootout.

On the one hand, it may seem harsh to single out Lloris because goalkeepers aren’t usually held responsible for their side's failures in penalty shootouts. Still, with a relatively low 12.1% career penalty save rate, coupled with the fact that Lloris has never saved a single penalty in a penalty shootout in his whole career, Deschamps may have wanted a more accomplished goalkeeper for penalty shootouts than his captain.

Plus, substitute Disasi may have been the next designated taker but never ended up taking a penalty kick.

It would have been an incredibly difficult decision for Deschamps to substitute his captain for a penalty-specialist goalkeeper, but as an Australian, it’s worth recognising how much mettle it took for Graham Arnold to do exactly that.

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