Argentina vs France 7-5: Albiceleste Prevail on Penalties in Legendary Final

A match that will go down in the history of football. The World Cup in Qatar had a worthy conclusion, delivering to the fans one of the most spectacular last acts ever as Leo Messi finally completed his never ending quest for the World title.

Argentina prevailed over France on penalties after the regular and extra times ended in a 3-3 goal-fest. Even though it took a cruel shootout lottery to determine the winner, the game at the Lusail Iconic Stadium will make for a tale to be told their grandchildren by those who were fortunate enough to see it live.

What more could we ask for? The stage was set for the ultimate confrontation between the iconic Messi, who at 35 was likely walking the world stage for the last time without ever lifting the trophy, and his teammate Kylian Mbappe, the up-and-coming starlet that at 23 had already won the World title.  

The most influential footballer from the last decade versus the one who is set to dominate the game in the coming ten years and perhaps more. Both players delivered the goods. However, it was Messi to finally lift the Coppa Gazzaniga, brushing aside once and forever the overwhelming comparison with Diego Maradona, together with that feeling of inadequacy that seemed to overcome him every time he wore the Albiceleste jersey.   

No more of that. The quest is over, Leo. La Pulga cast away all doubts with a brilliant performance, embellished by two goals and one penalty scored during the shootouts, helping Argentina clinch that World Cup title that they had been chasing since 1986.

They seemed to have finally grasped it as they dominated the final showdown at the Lusail Stadium for almost 80 minutes, building a comfortable two-goal cushion.

But then, something happened, one of those immeasurable variables that make this game so magic despite all its controversies. France bounced back into the game in the space of three minutes, as Mbappe halved the gap from the spot and then drew level with a phenomenal volley, switching the match momentum in Les Bleus‘ favor. 

There was plenty of the drama during the extra times as well, with Messi putting his side ahead again and Mbappe converting another spot-kick. Inter’s Lautaro Martinez squandered every possible glorious chance to get the job done for Argentina, while goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez kept the Albiceleste afloat with an incredible save on the very last minute. 

In the end, it came down to penalties. Martinez denied Kingsley Coman and provoked Aurelién Tchouameni just enough for the Real Madrid midfielder to send his shot wide of the post. The Argentines made no mistakes as it was up to defender Gonzalo Montiel to convert the decisive shootout. Argentina’s celebrations, from Buenos Aires to Rosario, could commence. 

Was this a new Italy vs. West Germany, a goal-fest comparable to the 1970 World Cup legendary Semi Final? Only time will tell but one thing is for sure. Today’s Final followed a pattern similar to the 1970 matchup at the Azteca Stadium and it equally seemed bound to be a pretty unremarkable game. At least, for 80 minutes.

It looked unremarkable because Argentina were absolutely dominating it, with Didier Deschamps’ France too ugly to be true. The French were perhaps caught by surprise by coach Lionel Scaloni’s move as he deployed Angel Di Maria upfront after benching El Fideo in the previous two games.  

Di Maria literally wreaked havoc on the left flank as Les Bleus struggled to find countermeasures. The Juventus player put his stamp on Argentina’s opener on 23 minutes, forcing Ousmane Dembélé into fouling him in the box as he vainly tried to stop his powerful progression.   

To tell the truth, Di Maria is a big enough boy to resist such a slight challenge but, hey, this was a World Cup Final and the referee Szymon Marciniak agreed it was a penalty. Leo Messi confidently buried the spot, re-igniting his battle with Mpabbe for the Golden Boot title (Leo was now at six goals, with the Frenchman trailing by one).

Argentina’s second came 13 minutes later and it was a result of a brilliant one-touch team combination. This time, Messi turned into provider as he served El Fideo an easy chance to slot the ball home at the far post. The Albiceleste‘s fast break was stunning but the way Di Maria was left alone to receive La Pulga‘s pass says a lot about the French’s attitude. Les Bleus were just not there. 

Coach Deschamps was so furious that he didn’t even wait for the half time break to make two substitutions. He replaced a disastrous Dembélé and Olivier Giroud – who did literally not see the ball once – with Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Mouani. 

But not even the early changes seemed to change the situation. France continued to appear dazed and apathetic even after the restart. Argentina, on the other hand, progressively switched to cruise control mode but they became confident that the job was done too early, even though France’s Hugo Lloris had some work to do to keep the score unchanged. Scaloni’s only mistake of the night was probably pulling out Di Maria with still 25 minutes to go. 

It can take one random episode to change the fate of a game and that is exactly what happened on 78 minutes, when Kolo Muani suddenly dashed past Nicolas Otamendi and the Benfica man had to slide tackle him in the box. Mbappe converted the second penalty of the night, joining Messi at six tournament goals but, moreover, igniting new life into the Final. 

Then, just three minutes later, Les Bleus completed their incredible comeback as substitute Coman snatched the ball out of no less than Messi’s feet and triggered a clinical counterattack that caught the South Americans by surprise. The exchange between Mbappe and Thuram ended with the PSG man volleying the ball home from the left edge of the box, setting the Lusail Stadium on fire (Messi 6-7 Mbappe). 

Never count Les Bleus dead. We Italians learned it the hard way in the Final of the Euro 2000 in Rotterdam… 

The “unremarkable” Final was set aside, now it was time for history to kick in. Adrien Rabiot drew a save from Martinez, then Messi tried to get the job done in his own way, but Lloris sprung to push back La Pulga‘s shot. The eight minutes of stoppage time could not separate the two sides.

Both coaches put some fresh forces during the extra times but Scaloni’s changes were the most noticeable as he brought in Serie A farers Leandro Paredes and Lautaro Martinez. Sad to say, but the Inter striker was an absolute disaster as he wasted no less that four clear chances to wrap the game earlier and spare Argentina the shootouts agony.  

El Toro first lost the timing for a shot, allowing Dayot Upamecano to block him, then missed the target as he was all alone in front of Lloris. Those could have costed his side much.  

Four minutes into the second extra time, Messi took once again the matter in his own hands, setting Lautaro free to go on-one-one with Lloris, but the Inter man could find no better option that firing the ball right into the Tottenham goalie. Luckily for him, Messi pounced on the rebound and made it 3-2 (Messi 7-7 Mbappe).

Winning 3-2 after squandering a double lead seemed like yet another sign that Argentina were bound to win this World Cup as they had triumphed in the 1986 Final in a similar fashion, but the gods of football were not done with this game yet. On 118 minutes, a Mbappe shot in the box hit Montiel’s elbow and sent him to the penalty spot once again. 

Mbappe set the score at 3-3 with a stone cold conversion, gaining the ultimate edge over Messi in this titanic clash for the Golden Ball (final score: Messi 7-8 Mbappe).

The score wouldn’t change anymore, despite Emiliano Martinez wrapping the save of the tournament with a front split save from a Kolo Mouani close range shot and his namesake Lautaro wasting another glorious chance on the counter just before Marciniak would blow for full time.

The 2022 World Cup Final was thus decided on penalties as Martinez’s mind games and the Argentines’ efficiency did the rest. But no team is fully beaten when a Final ends in a shootout and, when time will have eased their wounds, France will also be proud of having participated to one of the most beautiful matches even played.

That will be the day when we will all fully realize what an incredible game we witnessed on that December 18, 2022, in a stadium in the middle of the desert in Qatar. 



December 18, 2022 – FIFA World Cup Final
ARGENTINA – FRANCE 3-3 after extra times, 4-2 on penalties

SCORERS: 23′ Messi (A, pen.), 36′ Di Maria (A), 79′ Mbappé (F, pen.), 81′ Mbappé (F), 109′ Messi (A), 118′ Mbappé (F, pen.)

PENALTY SEQUENCE: Mbappé (F) goal, Messi (A) goal, Coman (F) saved, Dybala (A) goal, Tchouameni (F) out, Paredes (A) goal, Kolo Muani (F) goal, Montiel (A) goal

ARGENTINA (4-3-3): E. Martinez; Molina (106′ Montiel), Otamendi, Romero, Tagliafico (121′ Dybala); De Paul (102′ Paredes), Fernandez; Mac Allister (106′ Pezzella); Messi, J. Alvarez (103′ Lautaro Martinez), Di Maria (64′ Acuna) (Armani, Rulli, Almada, A. Correa, Foyth, Lisandro Martinez, Palacios, Guido Rodriguez, Gomez) Coach: Scaloni
FRANCE (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Koundé (121′ Disasi), Varane (113′ Konaté), Upamecano, T. Hernandez (71′ Camavinga); Tchouaméni, Rabiot (96′ Fofana); Dembélé (41′ Kolo Muani), Griezmann (71′ Coman), Mbappe; Giroud (41′ Thuram) (Areola, Mandanda, Guendouzi, Pavard, Saliba, Veretout) Coach: Deschamps
REFEREE: Mr. Marciniak (Poland)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Fernandez, Acuna, Paredes, Montiel (A), Rabiot, Thuram (F); Added Time: 1st Half 7′, 2nd Half 8′, 1st Extra Half 1′, 2nd Extra Half 3′
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